The crisis in caregiving and its impact on the workplace

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It is estimated that more than three-quarters of adults living in the community and in need of long-term care depend on family and friends as their only source of help.

At the same time, the senior community is expected to double by 2030, and a growing number of older Americans are choosing to age in their own homes instead of opting for assisted living or nursing care.

As a result, more families are taking on the role of caregiver for aging loved ones.

With this new role comes additional emotional, physical and financial strains – but what impact does it have on the workplace?

Nearly 70 percent of caregivers say they suffer from work-related difficulties as a result of their dual responsibilities, while others find themselves taking unpaid leave or even declining promotions because they don’t feel capable of taking on additional responsibilities.

Time from work spent providing transportation to and from medical appointments, helping a loved one through an illness or distractions caused when worrying about a loved one left home alone: They all have an impact on workplace productivity. American businesses report losing as much as $34 billion each year because of their employees’ need to provide care.

Compounding the issue is the impact caregiving can have on one’s health, which not only affects productivity but can directly negate wellness efforts an employer has in place. The Family Caregiver Alliance says more than half of caregivers report skipping their own doctor’s appointments, and an estimated 20 percent of caregivers suffer from depression – a rate double that of the general population.

An innovative approach that addresses the elder care and work balance is gaining traction across the United States and here in the Greater Lehigh Valley. Person-centered medical home models of care emphasize care at home and mirror initiatives reflected in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – namely, eliminating the typical disjointed approach to health care management so prevalent in the U.S. health care system.

Designed to enable frail older people who are medically eligible for skilled nursing care to live at home and avoid inpatient care, this model unites physicians, patients and family members to collaborate as partners, resulting in better management of ongoing care or chronic conditions.

Everyday LIFE, a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, is a person-centered medical home model available to Lehigh Valley residents. Programs such as these are made for the family caregiver who is holding down a job while struggling to care for an elderly relative.

The older person who can’t safely stay home alone all day receives care during the day, participating in organized activities and receiving assistance with tasks such as therapy, doing laundry and taking showers.

Because these models do not restrict care to a specific number of allocated hours each week, members and physicians can work closely to create a tailored plan designed to meet the individual’s needs. The holistic model goes beyond physical medical care to include mental health, social connections and a person’s spirituality.

Members say they are living better lives – often reporting successful weight loss or gain (as medically recommended), a reduction in medications, fewer hospital visits and increased feelings of social connections. Beyond member benefits, advantages to the family member have a direct and indirect impact on the workplace.

One of the greatest benefits caregivers cite is increased support and peace of mind. These programs often provide individually tailored support services, including not only in-center care during the day but also transportation to or from doctor appointments, medication management, comprehensive coordination of medical care and an in-home evaluation to identify and address potential safety risks.

These programs also may offer a financial reprieve for families of loved ones, as the program and services can be 100 percent federally and state funded and of no cost to qualifying members. For those who can afford to pay, the program costs less than other long-term care options such as assisted living facilities and nursing homes.

As person-centered medical home models evolve, they’re beginning to shift more of their focus to the caregiver. Two of the greatest benefits caregivers cite when engaging with more progressive models are educational forums and stress reduction offerings, which sometimes are free for caregivers in the community.

Educational forums tackling issues such as Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – or offering tips and tricks for family caregivers – empower individuals with information to feel confident in the level of care they are providing.

After-work relaxation classes such as yoga and meditation further alleviate stress by teaching techniques that can be used in the class and at home.

America is facing a crisis in caregiving, and its impact is being felt by older Americans, their families and businesses alike. While businesses continue to cite decreased productivity as a result of the strains of family caregiving, programs are available in the Greater Lehigh Valley that offer vital support for family caregivers.

The comprehensive care models not only provide more streamlined care for frail older persons, they offer support and stress reduction for families that ultimately alleviate added pressure on the workplace.

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