Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The high cost of caregiving

An article in the Orange County Register last week caught my attention. The headline blared, “Caregiving costs Americans millions.”

This isn’t ground-breaking news; we know that caregiving has a significant cost to businesses, and anyone who has left a job to become a family caregiver knows the high personal cost, too.

The issue today is that more and more of us are facing the need to become caregivers. As we baby boomers begin aging we face the challenge on a scale larger than anything seen in history: a caregiving need that will cost us, personally and socially, millions of dollars.

Of course, the tough economy isn’t helping matters. Where we might have, at one time, simply contributed to the cost of hiring more caregiving help, today we’re giving a job to a nephew (untrained and inexperienced) because he needs the work. We’re taking on the task of caregiving ourselves, after becoming down-sized or RIFed.

According to the story, “43 percent of caregivers have taken a pay cut or have been forced to work fewer hours as a result of the recession.” The story goes on to point out that as we live longer, nearly all of us can expect to spend at least a few years as caregiver to a parent or spouse.

And as we start to face these situations personally, we may, as a society, start to take steps to improve the awareness of the very real cost, both measurable and not.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Boomers and technology

Baby boomers love their technology. Even seniors today are getting hooked on technology. My 76 year old mom uses email almost every day, and my 90 year old mother-in-law’s best friend (in her late 80s) is so computer connected she won’t move into the retirement community where my in-laws live until they build three bedroom apartments: one for her, one for her spouse and one for her computer equipment.

We’ll need all the technology assist we can get as we boomers head into the coming years. More of us will be living longer, more productive lives, but many of us will need help, too.

We may be the ones to install motion sensors throughout our homes, monitored by a company that tracks our usual level of activity and alerts someone when that usual activity changes.

We might be the ones to use health monitors that send data directly to our health care providers.

We’ll certainly be the ones to turn to the internet with each new ache and pain; each new prescriptions; each new diagnosis. We’ll turn to our friends on Facebook and other social networking sites to discuss how we deal with the problems we’ll all face as we age – relationships, needs, challenges.

Many are beginning to look today to technology to help bridge the gap between needed knowledge and available time. Internet based training courses abound – both free and for a fee. There’s less and less of a shyster reputation attached, too, as prominent universities are offering courses and degrees, fully online.

Teaching through a virtual classroom helps bridge another gap in our society: too few teachers and classrooms for the number of interested learners. Virtual classrooms allow individuals in Fiji to learn alongside those in Calgary, Alberta, who are studying classes offered by a small company situated in Oregon City, Oregon.

It’s a great thing that we boomers are so enamored of our technology. In the coming years, we’re going to need the advantages it offers us to live the kinds of lives we’re determined to live, well into our good old age.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

May focus on older Americans

May is Older Americans Month, declared so by President Obama in recognition of the contributions of older citizens to our country.

“Older Americans have carried our Nation through great challenges and triumphs. They have enriched our national character and strengthened the Republic for those who have followed. During the month of May, we pay tribute to the wisest among us.

“Throughout the land, older Americans are strengthening our communities and the American way of life. Many senior citizens remain in the workforce to support themselves and their families. Others are embarking on second careers and exploring new interests and fields of knowledge. Inspiring citizens of all ages, many serve as advocates and volunteers in community service roles. In this important work, they make a real difference in the daily lives of fellow citizens of all ages, while promoting and strengthening the American spirit of civic participation.” (read more)

In one community, Marietta, Ohio, the local Area Agency on Aging is offering a variety of resource to help caregivers and their employers. Focusing on caregivers and employers makes good sense, since current estimates place the cost to businesses nationally in the billions of dollars.

Many of these costs to businesses related to absenteeism and work interruptions due to emergencies – not a surprise to any family caregiver. Caregiving is emotionally draining and time-consuming during working and non-working hours.

Employers can reduce some of their costs by helping caregiving employees work flexible hours, take leaves when needed, and by supporting caregiver’s education and training. As more and more family members face the need to step into caregiving roles employers will, by necessity, need to become even more creative to help their employees continuing caregiving, and continue working, too.

Older Americans Month gives us a moment to pause and think about the contributions of elders in our society, and commit, as a nation, to supporting those who care for them.