Haims: A senior caregiver crisis is a drain on American businesses (column) | VailDaily.com

Haims: A senior caregiver crisis is a drain on American businesses (column)

Judson Haims
Valley Voices

As more and more Baby Boomers reach retirement age, their children are feeling the strain. In areas without easy access to affordable senior caregivers, gen-Xers and millennials have to care for aging parents by themselves. Many of them struggle with the physical, mental and emotional costs of this work.

But according to new research, family caregivers aren’t the only ones in crisis. When working-age adults become unpaid senior caregivers, employers feel the pain. In a new study, the Harvard Business School says that employers are facing a “caregiving crisis,” a crisis that’s bleeding U.S. businesses of talent, productivity and profit.

The authors’ solution to this problem? More employers need to support and/or subsidize senior caregiver services for their workers.

When family members act as unpaid senior caregivers

Over the past decade, people have become more aware of the burdens faced by family caregivers. When an aging parent can no longer accomplish routine tasks, they’ll need some form of care if they’re going to age in place. This can come from professional senior caregivers or from family members.

While many families would prefer to hire senior caregivers, most end up providing care on their own. As their parent’s health declines, family members quickly find themselves overwhelmed. Soon enough, they reach a point of physical, mental, and/or emotional exhaustion — a condition known as “caregiver burnout.”

Until now, most people have assumed that seniors, family caregivers and the health care system are the biggest victims of this situation. But after surveying American employers and employees, researchers at the Harvard Business School concluded that U.S. companies are also facing a “caregiving crisis.” Worse yet, businesses “refuse to acknowledge” the scope of the crisis.

Here’s a quick summary of key senior-care findings from the study, which covered child care, spousal care and elder care …

Roughly one-third of employees surveyed had quit a job because it was incompatible with caregiving duties, including half of employees between the ages of 26 and 35.

Among employees who left a job to care for a family member, 32 percent were unpaid senior caregivers for an elder.

Nearly 80 percent of employees with caregiver duties say their work performance suffers because of caregiving — yet only 24 percent of employers believe that caregiving impacts job performance.

Similarly, employers vastly underestimate the number of employees who care for elder family members and the level of turnover caused by caregiving duties.

Few businesses offer elder care benefits, such as care referral services (provided by only 29 percent of employers) or helping to pay for senior caregiver services (provided by 8 percent of employers).

According to the authors, U.S. businesses lose nearly $13 billion each year to the senior caregiver crisis. Roughly half of that figure is due to employee turnover. The other half is linked to caregiving-related productivity loss.

Until businesses start paying closer attention to this crisis — and providing employees with adequate support — this number will only increase.

Finding affordable senior caregiver services

The Harvard study focused primarily on U.S. employers. But the study’s data points to broader concerns within the senior-care industry.

For example, employees who quit a job to care for a family member were asked what factors contributed to the decision. The two biggest answers were the inability to afford care services (53 percent) and the inability to find trustworthy and qualified caregivers (44 percent).

Resources and education on assisting our aging can be found locally from Eagle County’s Healthy Aging and the Alpine Area Agency on Aging — an association of the Northwest Colorado Council Of Governments. You are also always welcome to call us for questions and advise — there is no charge or obligation, this is what we do. Should your needs be out of state, we can also be helpful.

Nationally, helpful information can be found at the National Council on Aging (202-479-1200), The National Alliance for Caregiving (301-718-8444), and AARP at 888-OUR-AARP.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. He is an advocate for our elderly and is available to answer questions. His contact information is, http://www.visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.