Balancing aging parents and work Featured

8:00pm EDT August 26, 2007

As if there were not enough deadlines to meet in a week, many workers find themselves in a three-way juggling contest with home, work and, increasingly, aging parents.

A survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that in 1997, 22.4 million American households provided care for someone age 50 or older. Furthermore, 64 percent of those caregivers were employed. Many struggled to balance jobs and personal responsibilities. These numbers have grown — and will continue to grow — as 77 million baby boomers reach retirement age.

Smart Business spoke to Karen L. Talbott, president of Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates, a member of the Akron General Health System, for some tips on handling the demands.

How do aging trends and caregiving responsibilities affect businesses?

The impact is significant, both in terms of personal stress and business costs. MetLife and the NAC found that workers with care-giving responsibilities often need to alter work schedules, come in late, leave early, or miss work altogether for relatives’ appointments or to deal with sudden crises. Furthermore, caregivers spend more time making and receiving personal calls. Their productivity is compromised by the significant personal and financial stress they experience.

When some workers need to quit their jobs for these reasons, employers incur the costs of recruiting and training a new employee. The study estimated these combined costs to exceed $11 billion per year.

What can employers do?

Employers can investigate services available in the community and provide information to employees through printed materials, seminars or individual counseling. They can encourage employees to develop contingency plans for older relatives, and provide employee assistance programs (EAP), which assess options and help to manage personal and financial stress.

They can consider changes to work policies and benefits to include job sharing, part-time status, flexible work hours, time off work without pay and long-term care insurance, and may offer a dependent care flexible spending account.

How can a caregiver prepare to make good decisions?

Understand the options and plan ahead. There are many levels of caregiving. It is important to understand each of them and to have a plan. Some individuals need minimal assistance and can live alone in their homes. Others need total care and must move into an extended care facility. It is usually more time-consuming and more expensive to respond to a crisis than to have studied and selected options in advance.

When is it time to intervene with an aging relative?

Signs indicating the need for an intervention include increasing confusion and forgetfulness, deterioration in personal appearance and hygiene, not taking medications as prescribed, poor judgment when driving, susceptibility to con artists or scams, or increasing difficulty with the activities of daily living. Another sign is inability or unwillingness to engage in social activities or enjoy hobbies.

What services are available to help a care-giver?

A home assessment is a great place to start. A program like Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates can help elderly persons stay safe and remain independent in their homes. High on our list of priorities is to help individuals avoid falls and properly take prescribed medications, since a fall or medication error can often lead to hospitalization or a move to a nursing home.

A licensed staff can visit the person’s home and do a complete assessment. If the person is having a balance problem or is unstable, grab bars or improved lighting may be installed. The staff can assess for kitchen, fire and electrical safety. If the person is living alone, it may be a good idea to have a medical alert device. Telehealth units at home are also now an option.

Personal care aides can help patients bathe, dress, run errands, get to medical appointments, purchase groceries or do other tasks that require assistance.

A few hours assistance per day or week can relieve a lot of pressure and stress from primary caregivers and help them to be more productive at work.

Who pays for these services?

Each case is based on the individual’s needs and circumstances. Most elderly patients have Medicare or Medicaid benefits. Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates also works with other agencies that provide funding for home services, like Passport, the Veteran’s Administration and private long-term-care insurance plans. Some individuals with life-threatening illnesses can access medical benefits available for hospice patients. Some services are private pay.

We work with families to help them understand their options, benefits and choices. We also do on-site informational sessions for employers to offer to their employees.

KAREN L. TALBOTT is president of Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates (VNSA), headquartered in Akron. She is vice chair of work force development for the board of the Greater Akron Chamber and board chair of Summit Workforce Solutions. She received both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Kent State University and is a graduate of Leadership Akron. Reach VNSA at (800) 362-0031 or