By JENNIFER FITZPATRICK
Special to Chesapeake360.com
Many Eastern Shore residents are caring for an elderly loved one while working outside the home. Caregiving for an older adult is stressful enough, but trying to manage a full or even part-time job simultaneously can be downright grueling. Here are five tips on how to balance caregiving while keeping your employer happy.
1. Don’t expect your employer to anticipate what’s going on. While most employers know what to expect when an employee has a new baby, they have no idea how to support an employee who is caring for an older loved one. When an employee becomes a parent, maternity, and even more recently even paternity, leave is the norm. Typically there is a workplace plan in place because this type of leave is expected. Many bosses, even sensitive ones, are less experienced in anticipating the challenges caregivers of older loved ones face. Caregivers in the workplace are facing just as many challenges as new parents but have not usually prepared for them in advance as well as new parents have.
Frequently, people become caregivers of seniors literally overnight. Your wife had a stroke yesterday. Dad got lost walking around his neighborhood last week, drawing attention to the fact that his memory is fading. Uncle Jim broke a hip this morning.
These are not occasions that anyone is planning for or eagerly anticipating like the birth of a new baby, but caregivers for seniors face remarkably similar challenges to those of a new parent. Mom’s adult daycare center might be closing early due to inclement weather. Sleep may be lacking because the caregiver’s father with Alzheimer’s disease was up wandering all night.
2. Come to your employer with a plan. Caregivers must be proactive in communicating with and educating their employers on creating a caregiver-friendly environment.
Many organizations are required to offer Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) but are there other benefits available through the workplace health insurance plan or an employee assistance program? Perhaps your employer would be open to flexible hours, telecommuting, an abbreviated work week or longer penalty-free unpaid leave of absence options if you need more time off than FMLA can provide.
3. Keep communicating with your employer. If your manager agrees to change your work duties or schedule to accommodate your caregiving, make sure you honor this agreement fully. Keep your employer abreast if you are not going to be able to hold up your end of the deal for any reason. Document your conversations so you can refer back to them if there is ever a problem on either end.
4. Don’t quit your job before thinking it through. Many caregivers take early retirement or quit their job entirely to take care of an older loved one. While this might be the right decision for you and your family, it is important to seriously consider the financial and emotional consequences. It may be much more cost-effective in the long term for you to keep working but hire help for your older loved one.
5. Seek help outside the office. While it’s helpful if your employer understands your caregiving challenges, you will still need support outside the workplace. While your coworkers and boss may be accommodating you, they should not be a dumping ground for your stress. Consider the following helpful resources on the Shore:
• Alzheimer’s Association (if your loved one has Alzheimer’s disease or another irreversible dementia) www.alz.org/maryland or 800-272-3900
• Your local Area Agency on Aging:
Cecil County is 410.996.5295
Kent, Caroline & Talbot Counties: 410-778-6000
Queen Anne County: 410-758-0848
Dorchester, Worcester, Wicomico & Somerset: 410-742-0505
Jennifer FitzPatrick is the founder of Jenerations Health Education, a gerontology instructor at Johns Hopkins University & an education consultant for the Alzheimer’s Association. For more information, go to www.jenerationshealth.com.