How to balance your career with the needs of an aging family member

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How to balance your career with the needs of an aging family member

Holding a job and caring for a frail or ill older family member at home can be a huge challenge as you attempt to balance competing demands on your time and energy. As our population ages, more families than ever are providing this care. According to studies, as many as 42 percent of working Americans — more than 54 million people — have provided eldercare in the last five years. The average age of caregivers is 49 — a peak year for earnings and for career achievement. Women take on slightly more responsibility for care, but men are greatly impacted, as well.

Current demographic trends make this issue even more urgent:

  • The massive Baby Boomer generation is at caregiving age, and soon many will need care themselves.
  • We’re living longer, resulting in more debilitating, age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, arthritis, diabetes, and stroke.
  • Hospital stays are shorter, so more care is needed at home.
  • Women, traditionally caregivers for both children and the elderly, are now in the workforce and less available to provide full-time care.

While families may undertake such care willingly and lovingly, there can be long-lasting consequences — both personal and financial — for working caregivers. These may include poorer health, increased stress, time lost from work, lower productivity, quitting a job to give care, lost employer paid health benefits and lower current and future earnings, including Social Security and pension income.

Keys to managing the balancing act: Evaluating needs, exploring options

To start, it’s important to evaluate your parent’s current living situation and assess how care needs can be met. Consider your parent’s safety, isolation, ability to be left alone, medical needs, and what help is available to handle basic daily activities.

Your challenge as a caregiver is to determine how best to utilize the time and energy you have available for caregiving in addition to meeting the demands of your job and family responsibilities. Everyone’s situation is different, and for many families, there’s no simple, single solution. Instead, they create an intricate patchwork of services and assistance. Be aware that care needs will change, so different solutions may be needed in the future.

In sorting out your family’s needs, it helps to:

  • Make a list of all you do as a caregiver. For example, I do the grocery shopping; take Dad to the doctor; pay his bills; order prescriptions; do her laundry; make his dinner.
  • Make a second list of what you might be able to delegate to others and the times you need help.
  • Determine how much money your parent or your family can afford to pay for outside help.
  • Explore services and care options in your community or near your parent’s home. Ask friends and neighbors about local services and care providers.
  • Be willing to ask for help, and seek counseling from community organizations that offer advice for caregivers. 

Handling your stress:

Negotiating time off work, coping with tension-filled family dynamics and managing your own fears and concerns about your parent’s well-being all contribute to increased stress and potential burn-out.

It’s not selfish to say you need to care for you. Utilize local services. Say yes to offers of help. If feasible, talk to your employer about making adjustments in your work hours. Do what you can to stay healthy: eat well, try to get some exercise (walking is a great stress-reliever!). Get some sleep if you can. Try to be flexible, accept that you may have to let go of some duties, and remember there will good days and bad days.

Family-friendly workplace policies coupled with your own proactive strategies for providing care can go a long way towards making your caregiving journey more doable and less stressful.

By, Kathleen Kelly, Family Caregiver, PBS Newshour



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