Adding Life To Years

Eldercare in the Workforce

“There are four kinds of people in this world: Those who have been caregivers, those who currently are caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”- Former first lady Rosalynn Carter

Clearly caregiving impacts the majority of Americans today. According to the National Alliance on Caregiving, there are an estimated 67 million caregivers in the United States. Of this number, 4 million care for children, while 50 million care for adults, and 13 million care both children and adults. Caregivers tend to be mainly women (66%), with an average age of 48. About one third of caregivers take care of more than two people, and 86% care for a family member.

Caregivers provide assistance with a whole variety of activities of daily living and
instrumental activities of daily living. Fifty-six percent of caregivers report assisting with activities of daily living such as getting in and out of bed and chairs, getting dressed,
bathing and showering, getting to and from the toilet, feeding and dealing with incontinence. Assistance with instrumental activities include providing transportation, helping with housework, grocery shopping, preparing meals, managing finances, managing medications, and arranging or supervising paid services or paying for them.

According to AARP and the National Alliance on Caregiving, the state of Nevada has more than 532,000 informal caregivers, and the value of informal caregiving in Nevada is said to be roughly $4 billion. Approximately one in five caregivers say they have obtained formal caregiver training (19%), and more than 78% of informal caregivers feel they need more help or information about caregiving. The areas in which caregivers most frequently seek training and information include keeping their loved one safe at home, finding appropriate services, managing their own stress, identifying easy activities to do with care recipients, finding time for themselves, balancing work and family, talking to doctors and other healthcare professionals, making end-of life decisions, and managing challenging behaviors, especially dealing with dementia.

Family caregivers can face financial hardships if they must leave the labor force due to caregiving demands. Not only may they lose earnings and Social Security benefits, but they also can lose job security and career mobility, and employment benefits such as health insurance and retirement savings. There is evidence that midlife working women who begin caring for aging parents reduce paid work hours or leave the workplace entirely. An analysis a couple of years ago estimates that the lifetime income-related losses sustained by family caregivers age 50 and over who leave the workforce to care for a parent are about $116,000 in wages, $138,000 in Social Security benefits, and conservatively $50,000 in pension benefits. These estimates range from a total of $283,716 for men to $324,044 for women, or $303,880 on average, in lost income and benefits over a caregiver’s lifetime. Evidence suggests that assuming the role of caregiver for aging parents in midlife not only has a greater economic impact on female caregivers’ retirement years but also may substantially increase women’s risks of living in poverty and receiving public assistance in old age.

Caregiving has economic consequences not only for the caregiver but also for employers, especially in lost productivity and higher health care costs. About 42% of U.S. workers have provided elder care in the past five years, and nearly one in five (17%) is estimated to currently be providing care and assistance for older relatives or friends. It has been estimated that U.S. businesses lose up to $34 billion per year in lost productivity from full-time employees  who have caregiving responsibilities outside of work. These costs include those associated with replacing employees, absenteeism, workday distractions, supervisory time, and reductions in hours from full-time to part-time.

Recent research shows a link between employed family caregivers of older relatives and their health care costs. Employers were found to be paying about 8% more for the health care of employees with eldercare responsibilities compared to non-caregiving employees, potentially costing U.S. businesses an additional estimated $13 billion per year. Both younger employees (age 18 to 39) and older employees (age 50+) providing care for an older relative were more likely to report fair or poor health in general, and they were significantly more likely to report depression, diabetes, hypertension, or pulmonary disease than non-caregivers of the same age. This finding suggests that the challenge of having employees with eldercare responsibilities outside of work is an important factor in the health care costs of businesses.

The work of caregiving has a substantial impact on health and well-being. An extensive body of research finds that providing care to a chronically ill family member or close friend can have profound negative effects on the caregiver’s own physical and psychological health, increase social isolation, and adversely impact quality of life and well-being.  Caregivers commonly experience emotional strain and mental health problems, especially depression. A review of studies suggests that between 40% and 70% of family caregivers of older adults have clinically significant symptoms of depression, with about one-fourth to one-half of these caregivers meeting the diagnostic criteria for major depression.

Research has shown that caregivers have poorer physical health than non-caregivers, with an estimated 17% to 35% of family caregivers perceiving their health as fair to poor. Family caregivers face chronic health problems of their own, such as heart disease, hypertension, stroke, poorer immune function, sleep problems and fatigue, increased use of psychotropic drugs, and even death among highly stressed spouse caregivers. Caring for a spouse with a dementing illness like Alzheimer’s disease is particularly stressful and is associated with depression, physical health problems, sleep problems, social isolation, mortality, and a greater risk of the caregiver’s developing dementia.

Clearly the impact of caregiving is enormous for both the caregiver themselves and for their employer. As a result, we first need to identify and acknowledge the caregivers in the workplace. Then we need to provide better support systems and services to both the caregiver and the employer through acknowledgement, information, workplace flexibility, ensuring safety of the loved ones, managing stress, and balancing work and family so it is a win-win for both the caregiver and the employer. What better way to “add life to years.”

Lawrence J. Weiss, Ph.D. is CEO of the Center for Healthy Aging. Dr. Weiss welcomes your comments on this column. Write to him at or c/o Center for Healthy Aging, 11 Fillmore Way, Reno, NV 89519.

On December 21st, 2016, posted in: Adding Life To Years by
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