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It’s time to disrupt caregiving

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Family caregivers are responsible for more than administering medicine. They change catheters, clean feeding tubes, wash wounds and give injections, often with little or no training at all. (Courtesy photo)

November is National Family Caregiver’s Month, a time to honor and recognize the people who care for aging and ill family members. Honor and recognition are important, but we can’t stop there. Caregiving disrupts the lives of the more than forty million people in this country who are assisting an aging or ill family member. As a result of their caregiving duties, their health, their work, their ability to save for retirement, and the quality of care they are able to provide, are all impacted. This November we must move beyond honoring and recognizing caregivers. We need to disrupt caregiving.

According to the AARP, the typical caregiver spends 24.4 hours per week providing care. This adds up to an estimated $470 billion annually in unpaid work. Caregivers also spend an average of $6,954 in out of pocket expenses. These increased costs often coincide with a decrease in salary. Sixty percent of all caregivers say caregiving has negatively impacted their ability to work and as a result they often ask for a position with less responsibility, take a leave of absence, or reduce their hours. Some quit altogether, resulting in an average of $304,000 in lost wages and benefits.

On top of the time and costs, caregiving can take an emotional toll on family members. As if watching a parent decline, renegotiating family roles and responsibilities, and balancing a person’s need for autonomy and security isn’t challenging enough, many family caregivers are called on to perform medical tasks too. More than administering medications, family caregivers are changing catheters, cleaning feeding tubes, washing wounds and giving injections – all with little or no training at all. We like to think medical professionals handle these critical tasks, but that is not reality.

We can start the disruption process by supporting family caregivers at work. While there has been an increase in elder care benefits offered to employees, only three percent of organizations polled by the Society for Human Resources Management as part of its 2016 Employee Benefits Survey offered geriatric counseling. Just two percent offered on-ramping programs for family members dealing with elder care issues, and just one percent offered assisted living assessments. That’s not going to cut it. We’re becoming smarter as a country about what it takes to retain working mothers and fathers. What about working daughters and sons? Employers should review their benefits today and make sure they have systems in place to support and retain their employees who are juggling eldercare with career.

Training family caregivers should be a no-brainer and legislation like the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act helps. Among other things, it provides family caregivers with education and instruction on the medical tasks they need to perform. So far 30 states have signed the act into law. The remaining 20 need to follow suit.

We need to put our best minds to work solving the daily challenges of caregivers and the people for whom they provide care. Organizations like the AARP and Aging 2.0 offer accelerator programs for caregiver-focused start-ups. We need to direct even more focus and funding toward caregiving-related businesses.

Finally, we must value the work of care – both the paid and the unpaid. The National Domestic Worker’s Alliance reports that many paid caregivers are excluded from workplace protections and benefits like minimum wage and paid time off granted under the Fair Labor Standards Act. This has to change. More states need to enact a Domestic Workers Bill of Rights.

How we care for Mom and Dad is not a private family matter. Approximately 10,000 people turn 65 every day in this country and the AARP predicts that by 2020 – less than three years from now – there will be a shortage of paid caregivers. As a result, even more unpaid, family caregivers will be called upon to meet that demand. This is going to affect all of us. We must disrupt caregiving, before it disrupts us.

Liz O’Donnell is Founder of Rent-A-Sister and author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman. More information is available at WorkingDaughter.com

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