Balancing Work and Caregiving for a Senior Family Member: Here’s What You Need to Know

You’re working full-time and busy with other responsibilities, such as raising your children, taking care of your home, or doing volunteer work. Suddenly, your spouse, parent or other loved one has a condition or illness that requires regular caregiving. Will you decide to take on that role in addition to everything else? How can you be effective at balancing work and caregiving at the same time?

More and more people are saying “yes,” and it’s having a major impact on the U.S. workforce and economy. According to a survey published by the Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregivers (RCI), 20% of full-time employees are working while providing family care, whether by choice or necessity. That means they’re providing care on a regular basis for a family member or friend with a serious illness, developmental disorder, or disability.

The Caregiving Decision

In some families, it’s just assumed that siblings, adult children, or other relatives will help when someone needs it. For others, financial realities may be the deciding factor. If appropriate care can be provided at home, that can cost significantly less than a group residence such as a nursing home, assisted living community or memory care facility.

More recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to the isolation of many seniors in group homes, has left many families wanting to keep their older loved ones at home for as long as possible. Yet even that decision can be fraught, as one woman explained to the New York Times: “[My mother] was very adamant about not wanting her daughters to be caregivers.” The mother worried that her caregiving needs would burden her adult children.

As the saying goes, “It’s complicated.” Whatever road brought you to family caregiving, here are some tips to manage it while keeping your full-time job.

Get Help

First and foremost, ask for what you need. If you’re caring for your mom, for example, can she stay with your sister, who lives out of state, for a few weeks each year? Can your brother who lives nearby come over two evenings a week while you go to the gym? Friends, neighbors, and members of your loved one’s faith community might step in as well. And if you’re a spouse caregiver with grown children, ask them to help in some way.

Find out if any assisted living or memory care residences in the area offer respite care. With this option, your loved one will live in the residence while you take a break, and they will enjoy the same care, activities, and meals as full-time residents.

Also, look into home care agencies in your area. Reputable companies will provide caregivers or aides specifically for your needs, on a schedule that works for you. Agencies can help with anything from respite care, grocery shopping, and transportation to giving medication reminders and doing light housekeeping. Be sure to find an agency whose staff are trained, licensed, and bonded/insured.

Talk to Your Employer

In the RCI survey, employed family caregivers said they want flexible scheduling, remote work or telework, specialized caregiver services, and other options. Fortunately, more employers are seeing the value of supporting working caregivers. In a 2021 study published by the insurance company Genworth, family caregivers said they had “better resources, improved access to training, and more flexible work arrangements” than they had in 2018.

So be open with your employer about your situation. You might feel hesitant to bring personal concerns to work, but remember that your company is as eager as you are to reduce the impact of caregiving on your productivity. Your boss or human resources department can answer your questions about the company’s policy on family leave, flextime, telecommuting, and job sharing.

You can also explore taking time off temporarily in accordance with the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, if applicable. To be eligible, an employee must have worked for the company for at least a year, working at least 1,250 hours within that year, and the company must employ at least 50 staff members.

Protect Your Financial Wellbeing

A study from the MetLife Mature Market Institute showed that working caregivers experience an average loss of $700,000 over their working life due to lost wages, reduced pension and other retirement account contributions, and lower Social Security benefits. They jeopardize their own retirement savings, often going into debt.

Do some homework. Talk to other family members. They may not realize what serving as the primary caregiver is costing you. They might chip in for home care or other care support.

And if you’re caring for an older parent, it might be time for a talk with them, too. Are they financially able to pay for care services? If their care needs are increasing, investing in professional in-home care could protect your career, and their quality of life.

Finding a Balance

Taking steps to better manage your work and caregiving roles will not only benefit you, but also the person you are caring for. A common motto cited by caregiving experts is: “Taking care of yourself makes you a better caregiver.” It can make you a better employee, as well!

Right at Home, the leading provider of Sarasota elder care and care throughout all of Sarasota County, provides professionally certified senior care services. Contact us at (941) 929-1966 for a free in-home consultation to discuss your care needs or concerns.

Michael Juceam
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