Our last blog talked about moving a loved one into your home when they are no longer able to live independently. We decided to follow that up with a blog that explores the work/life/family balance as it relates to caring for an aging loved one.
At first, once your loved one is settled in and you adjust to your new “normal”, your caregiving role may seem quite manageable. Family and friends often help a lot in the beginning, checking in frequently and helping with things like grocery shopping, meal prep and doctor’s appointments. In some families, this may continue, but for many it tends to dissipate over time. Either way, once your loved one is living with you as the primary caretaker, they will become increasingly dependent and you will be the one who is going to bear the greatest impact of the burden. For those who work outside of the home, this can mean a real strain on your relationship with your employer.
While you may qualify for the protections of the Family Medical Leave Act which offers job protection to employees who have a parent with a “serious health condition” to take unpaid leave (up to 12 weeks annually), not everyone qualifies and many people cannot afford to take 12 weeks unpaid. To qualify you must have worked for an employer with 50 or more employees for at least 1,250 hours of the past 12 months. Another challenge here is that because the act requires a 30 day notice in advance of taking the leave, unexpected health emergencies may not be covered.
The Slippery Slope
For many that enter into the “slippery slope” of caregiving as their loved one’s health begins to fail, hospitalizations become more frequent and management of their needs begins to become all-consuming. Many family caregivers consider quitting their job or going part time because the balancing act becomes too overwhelming. One big issue is that at this point in their careers, individuals are usually in their peak earnings phase, so quitting or taking a step back affects both their opportunities for advancement and their overall income potential and future social security benefits. It is a similar struggle to women taking time off to stay at home with babies and young children. The choice is often made because if they did work, all or most of their income would go towards paying for day care.
In order to prepare for balancing work and caregiving, it is important to keep in contact with your support system and let them know as needs increase that you need more help from them. Divvy up tasks and consider using a family calendar sharing app like Cozi or FamCal for things like doctor’s appointments and other activities. It is also important in advance to evaluate accessible resources if that hasn’t been done already. Discuss what free or low-cost resources might be available in your area such as volunteer services through a church or the area agency on aging. Those resources can exhaust quickly however, so include in your plan what the next steps will be. Even if you have a family member that agrees to be “back up”, you may want to have a “plan C” such as adult day care and/or in home elder care support. If an emergency comes up, having a respite care plan in place can be crucial.
It is important to have an open discussion with your boss where you let him or her know about the family challenges you are facing and keep them informed as things change. Fortunately, many employers are sympathetic and understanding and the more they know about your family’s caregiving needs, the easier they can accommodate you. They may be willing to adjust your work schedule, offer flex time, or temporary telecommuting. Some employers may also offer caregiving benefits above and beyond FMLA. For instance, according to the US department of Labor, as of October 2016 a little over half of US employers offered some type of “Employee Assistance Programs”. Check with your HR Director to determine what benefits might be offered by your employer that you could be unaware of.
Consult the Experts
Consider hiring an Aging Life Care Manager who can step in when you have to focus on your work, act as your eyes and ears when you can’t be there with your loved one, and help you navigate the complexities of the medical system. An ALCM will assess the situation, devise a care plan, and even help you execute it if you so desire. They can coordinate with home and community-based services. Securing quality paid caregivers to care for your loved one while you work is one of the challenges that ALCMs are often brought in to handle, as it can be one of the most difficult pieces of the puzzle. There are an array of different types of home care services available, all with varying levels of cost, and an ALCM will be well versed in what is available and how to incorporate it into the care plan based on the budget. Going through an agency in the safest plan, because it ensures that important employment issues like taxes and insurance are covered, and the caregivers provided will be fully vetted by the agency.
Planning Is Everything
The primary solutions to avoiding an epic work/life tug of war is good planning, preparation, and communication. Too many people avoid the issue until it becomes a crisis, which will cause the most difficulty for you, your loved one, and your employer. Over night the situation can go from bad to worse, such as in the event of a fall or sudden onset of illness that seriously damages your loved one’s independence. Without a good plan in place, something like this can throw everything into spiraling chaos, which after beginning is very hard to regain control. Plan ahead and don’t let yourself fall victim to this costly scenario.
About the Author: Pam Reynolds, CMC is the President and co-owner of Allegiance Aging Care Services. Pam has spent almost fifteen years working in senior care including long term care facilities and home health care. Her higher education is in Social Work, and she has been credentialed as both a certified Geriatric Care Manager and Licensed Assisted Living Administrator. Read more about Pam and her team of Aging Care Professionals here.