Balancing Work and Elder Care: How to Find Help

Nearly one in six adults participating full-time in the workforce provide unpaid care for a loved one. (Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.) Currently, the average caregiver is 49 years old. This age is also a peak time for earnings and career achievement. As our population ages, more families are providing care for an older adult at home, and an increasing number of people will need such care in the coming decade. This trend suggests that more and more working adults will be put in a financially disadvantaged position due to the needs of family care.

Current demographic and healthcare trends make this issue even more significant:

  • The massive Baby Boomer generation is at prime caregiving age, and many are becoming care recipients themselves.

  • Although we are living longer, debilitating, age-related illnesses such as Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's, arthritis, diabetes, and stroke are occurring with increasing frequency.

  • Hospital stays are becoming shorter, meaning more care is needed at home.

  • Women, who have traditionally been the caregivers for both children and the elderly, are now more likely to be in the workforce and less available to provide full-time care.

What do family caregivers do?

Click here for a more comprehensive guide to the role of family caregivers, but to summarize - the role varies. The goal of family caregiving is to help your loved one maintain independence in the home as long as possible. For some, it’s a nearly full-time and daily endeavor that covers the day-to-day necessary tasks (bathing, dressing, feeding, coordinating doctor’s visits, etc.). For others, it’s a frequent - but less-hands on level of care - managing the weekly and monthly tasks (help with bills, home safety, drives to the grocery store, etc.).


What’s their impact?

The healthcare system in the United States as it exists today couldn’t function without these unpaid family caregivers. Their value in the labor force is estimated at $470 billion annually (Source).


With that said, work disruptions due to employee caregiving responsibilities result in productivity losses to businesses of an estimated $2110 per year per employee—a loss of up to $33.6 billion per year for full-time employees as a group (Source).


How can working caregivers manage the stress?

Being a working caregiver comes with a compounded level of stress and responsibility. Stress greater than either of those roles creates alone. Thankfully, there are a lot of community, government, and non-profit resources available to help relieve some of the burdens. Let’s explore how to determine your needs and access the relevant help next.


Step 1: Assess Your Needs

The first step to effective help for a working caregiver is understanding exactly what kind of help you’ll need. To figure this out:

  • Make a list of all you do as a caregiver and separate it into two categories: things I must handle myself and things I’d be comfortable delegating.

  • Take the list of things you’d be comfortable delegating and further break it down: what type of care is it, and where could the care take place? Examples: Type of care needed - companion, chore work, food preparation, nurse care. Where the care could happen - at home, a senior center, an adult daycare center, or another location.

  • Determine a budget - what available budget (if any) do you have to dedicate to these needs?

Step 2: Find Help

Once you have an idea of what you want/need help with, you’ll have a much better idea of where to start in finding and evaluating your options.


Finding Community Resources

Find Community Resources through Information and Referral Services: These are services to help you locate local programs and services and they are a great place to start. Here are 3 places to look for Information and Referral Services. Senior Organizations: Senior or community organizations maintain lists of resources by geographic area to help you get started in finding the help you need. Employers: Some employers also offer this type of information through Employee Assistance Programs (EAP), so it’s worth talking to your employer to see what resources they may offer. Online Resources: Family Caregiver Alliance's online Family Care Navigator offers information on public resources for every state, including local Area Agencies on Aging. The national Eldercare Locator provides information on Area Agencies on Aging and other services. Even if your parent lives far away, you can find services to help.


Step 3: Coordinate - Discuss Tasks with Family, Friends, and Organizations

Finally, it’s time to coordinate. There are both informal sources of help and more formal sources, like local and care organizations.


Arranging Help

Get Help through Informal Arrangements: There may be simple tasks that can easily be done by friends, family, neighbors, or faith group members (examples include preparing meals, providing rides, helping with grocery shopping or laundry, providing reassuring phone calls or companionship for your relative). We recommend holding a family meeting to get family and friends on the same page about the amounts and types of care needed and delegate accordingly. Local Organizations: If family or friends are unable or unwilling, or if some tasks remain outstanding, local senior centers or colleges often have programs for community volunteers. Care Organizations: In California, eleven Caregiver Resource Centers (CRCs) provide a range of supportive services to family caregivers of adults with disabling health conditions (e.g., Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke, traumatic brain injury, Parkinson's disease). CRCs help family caregivers with information, educational programs, and emotional support, as well as individualized care planning to support you in your caregiving journey. Most services are free of charge. More information and resources can be found by visiting the list of California's Caregiver Resource Centers.


Other Ideas: Many other community services are available to help, including care management services, home-delivered meals (such as mealsonwheels.org), transportation services, home safety services, temporary overnight care, hospice (for terminally ill individuals), and support groups (for either the caregiver or the ill individual). Your local Area Agency on Aging or senior center can help you locate these.


Step 4: Cross-Reference Take the list of tasks from step 1 and start divvying them up with available resources (family, friends, organizations you’ve found, etc.). Use a calendar or organizer (like www.lotsahelpinghands.com) to make sure none of the important tasks slip through the cracks.


Note: Websites such as www.lotsahelpinghands.com provide password-protected sites to help you schedule help and keep family and friends notified of your loved one's condition.


Closing Thoughts

Working family caregivers play an essential role in preserving the quality of life of chronically or terminally ill people throughout the country. Juggling work and caregiving responsibilities can compound the stress of both those roles. To reduce your burden, it’s worth getting organized, finding help, and delegating responsibilities where possible.


Remember that you cannot handle caregiving alone. Asking for or accepting offered help may feel strange, but it is one of the best ways to ensure your emotional wellbeing and reduce frustration. Check out our tips for creating a rest and renew checklist here.


We invite you to check out our library of information for family caregivers by clicking here for further reading and resources. You are also welcome to give us a call at 800-543-8312 to find out more about how we can support you in your caregiving journey.