“Ted” - one of three adult sons - had a stressful career as a newspaper copy editor with limited time to help care for his elderly mother, who lived three hours from his home. “The demands were so great and, quite honestly, my job didn’t allow for me to take off time. Care mostly fell to my sister-in-law, who lived in the same community.”
For a variety of reasons, including his mother’s increasing care needs, Ted exchanged his newspaper career for a contract writing business when he was in his 50s. While the job change allowed him to spend more time with his mother, who eventually moved to a skilled nursing community, his duties didn’t change much.
He continued to do what he’d done before, helping to arrange care services for his mom and monitor her care, along with supporting another brother who was handling the finances. Until their mother was placed in skilled nursing, Ted’s sister-in-law primarily provided the hands-on care.
Ted’s story is not unusual, according to Ellen Galinsky, senior research advisor for SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management).
“According to our research, working men are just as likely as employed women to provide care for an elderly parent. But they’re doing different things such as managing finances, managing medications and arranging services.”
Consider these statistics, from The Eldercare Study: Everyday Realities and Wishes for Change, with data from the 2008 National Study of the Changing Workforce:
• On average, women spend 9.1 hours a week providing care (or an average of 6.4 hours providing in-person care and an average 2.7 hours providing indirect care).
• Men spend an average total of 5.7 hours as caregivers (or an average 3.4 hours providing in-person care and an average 2.2 hours providing indirect care).
• In 2008, men who were caregivers experienced more work-family conflict than did women who were caregivers. That year, 49 percent of men experienced “some” or “a lot” of conflict compared with 42 percent of women. It is unclear why men experienced more conflict, but perhaps the role of caregiving is newer to them than it is to women and thus the demands are experienced more intensely, the report noted.
If you are a son or male spouse in the workforce caring for a senior loved one, be sure to check out what services your employer may offer to help you manage the stress of your dual roles as a family caregiver and employee.
Six health tips for working family caregivers
If you’re caring for an aging loved one and trying to manage a job, you may have seen your own health decline, even if you’ve tried your best to stay on top of things. The 2011 Wellbeing of Working American Caregivers study, conducted by Gallup and sponsored by Pfizer, revealed that working family caregivers have a 25 percent higher incidence of high blood pressure.
The impact of caregiving can be harsh, according to a survey of 1,250 North American working family caregivers, conducted by Home Instead, Inc. Overall, 96 percent of respondents say caregiving has added stress to their lives, including 9 percent who say it has added an extreme amount of stress and 25 percent who say it has added a lot more stress.
• 65 percent report that caregiving makes it more difficult to manage work-life balance,
• 53 percent say that caregiving makes it harder to take care of themselves, and
• 42 percent report caregiving is making them depressed.
Do these statistics ring true for you?
If you are a working family caregiver, consider the following tips:
Recognize the signs of stress: Are you snapping at your co-workers or others? Perhaps forgetting tasks that are normally like second nature to you? It could be stress. Identify the kinds of issues you have control over and what is best to let go. Put a plan of action into place to improve what you can and try to forget the rest.
Guard yourself from depression: Depression could sneak up on you and take hold, impacting multiple areas of your life. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and depressed, contact your HR (Human Resources) department or Employee Assistance Program (EAP) to find what benefits might be available to you. Many insurance policies cover counseling. Schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Take a vacation . . . or at least a break: OK, so a vacation to the Bahamas may not be in the budget, the work schedule or the family caregiving plans, but find a way for a mini-vacation. Splurge by stopping at your favorite coffee shop on the way to work, rent a movie classic or take a walk around a nearby park. Just taking an hour or even a few moments to decompress could help you feel better.
Learn better communication techniques: “If I had only done this,” or “I wish I’d said that,” is the lament of many working family caregivers. Effective communication can help you get what you need to stay healthy. If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. It’s important to be proactive in communicating your challenges and needs.
Sleep, diet and exercise: If there were a magic potion for family caregivers, this could be it. Eating healthy, walking as much as you can (at least 30 minutes a day is recommended) and getting seven to eight hours of sleep may seem like an impossible goal, but it could make the difference between maintaining health and a downward spiral. Think about ways you could incorporate these potentially life-saving healthy habits.
Don’t go it alone: Your EAP could be a great source of information on whether your company offers counseling, resource and referral services, support groups and other help. In addition, more companies have wellness programs. Find out if yours does. If not, try to connect with a group in your community (contact your local Area Agency on Aging) or in your faith community or local Legacy Concierge Services at 707-732-4527. Even scheduling coffee once a week with a friend could bolster your attitude and help you feel as though you’re not alone.
It’s easier said than done, but try not to allow caregiving to consume your life.
Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’s love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.