Employers: Take care of caretakers
By Michael Juceam | Contributing Columnist
You may know that we live in paradise, but what you may not know is that we also live, and work, in the dementia capital of the world. The impact of dementia on business is far more significant than most business people realize.
The effort made by these workers to both hold a job and be a caregiver takes a serious toll. Between 30-40% of family caregivers suffer from depression, and caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients have demonstrated higher levels of subjective cognitive problems than non-caregivers. Sandwich generation caregivers have a poorer quality of life, diminished health and health behaviors (e.g., choosing a poor diet).
Of special note to those in business management, last year 68% of working caregivers had to make accommodations for their loved ones while working, and 15% of caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients working 35 hours per week quit their job or retired early. At least 57% of the Alzheimer’s caregivers reported having to arrive late or leave early from work, and 16% had to take a leave of absence. What is not easily measured is the impact the distraction that being a caregiver takes on a worker’s ability to focus on meeting his or her job requirements. In short, Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cost American businesses $61 billion a year, of which $36.5 billion includes costs relating to lost productivity of employees providing care.
There are steps the business community can take to help reduce this negative impact. One of the most important things that can be done is to provide education to the caregiving workforce. Education should include information on community resources available to assist caregivers, including things like programs available through disease organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association or community groups like The Friendship Center.
Education should also include training on how to recognize signs or symptoms of cognitive issues and how to raise these issues constructively with the family member in need of help. This is especially important since the first signs that someone may be at risk for the disease are often related to poor judgment rather than memory loss. Additionally, education should include guidance on how to interact with other family members who have input on care decisions. This education can help reduce the stress of your caregiving workforce and enable them to perform their jobs better.
While education will be helpful, employees may need actual assistance with caring for a family member to enable them to go to work. Employers should consider including caregiving support in their employee assistance packages. These benefits can range from negotiated rates with companies in the business of providing caregivers to offering actual hours of care to allow workers respite from caregiving or to facilitate things like transportation to medical appointments. Employers can prescreen caregiving companies, establishing relationships such as a “recommended provider” status, thereby giving employees a resource to turn to at a time when they may be trying to make critical decisions under extreme emotional stress.
Other steps businesses may take include establishing their own Alzheimer’s support groups that meet either before work or during lunch, making it easier for caregiving employees to get the help and guidance they need, reducing their stress and allowing them to remain at work.
As a business executive, putting employees in a position to succeed is a key element of my job. Alzheimer’s disease presents a challenge to any caregiver, and that challenge is magnified many times over when that caregiver is trying to meet the expectations of his or her outside employer. Helping our employees cope with the challenges they face is simply good for business, and is the right thing to do.
Michael Juceam is owner of Right at Home Sarasota County and is a member of the Gulf Coast CEO Forum. CEO’s corner is a quarterly column in partnership with the CEO Forum.