Caring for another person can be physically, financially and emotionally exhausting. For new parents in their 20's and 30's, diapers, strollers, formula, belly aches and temper tantrums are just a few of the accepted realities. Conversely, as adult children in our 40’s, 50's and 60's, we typically overlook the costs of caring for our aging parents.
The reason is that we often don’t self-identify as caregivers. Adult children feel that they are simply helping their parents by doing the basics— stopping by the store, cooking a meal, cleaning up a bit, and helping with doctor appointments or medications. In reality, we are unpaid family caregivers - a growing population subjected to intense physical, financial and emotional pressure.
According to AARP, “the majority of family caregivers (60 percent) caring in 2014 were employed either full time or part time, placing competing demands on the caregivers’ time”. They are both women (60 percent) and men (40 percent). More often, women may leave the workforce early or downgrade their jobs for the sake of flexibility. AARP also states that the resulting lost wages and benefits are estimated to be up to $324,044 per person.
We are seeing increasing interest in the wellbeing of employed caregiving families from national entities such as the Commission on Long-Term Care, the White House Summit on Working Families, and spousal definitions under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). We are also seeing local employers helping.
Gerontologist Teresa Barker, MS of ElderHelp of San Diego recently expanded their services to include a Family Caregiver Support Program. Barker’s role is “primarily to increase awareness of family caregiving and help employees self-identify, thereby creating a work environment that embraces employed family caregiving as the "new normal" and de-stigmatizes the role that so many of us today are finding ourselves in.” Barker leads these programs at local businesses, such as Qualcomm and AT&T.
For many family caregivers, the new normal includes caring for loved ones with memory loss, which significantly increases the psychological burden of care. When your 90-year-old mother confuses you with her sister, it can be a difficult reality to accept. It might even unconsciously discourage you from interacting.
As with most overwhelming issues, there is not one final answer. Help often comes in a combination of approaches and over time. Your mom can benefit from your presence; it’s familiar and comforting. Just because she can’t recall and recount specific information, doesn't mean she stops experiencing life, so personalized engagement is key to helping you both.
As employed family caregivers, we are not always available in person, and at times may not fully understand how to help. At Generation Connect, we believe families can use smartphones and tablets to engaged loved ones with memory loss through stories, images, music and more. Most importantly, these experiences can be enjoyed over and over, even when you are not able to be there in person.
Generation Connect provides training for caregivers to help them engage people with memory loss through tablets and smartphones. Click here to learn more!