Today's Working Caregiver: Recognition, Respect, Support

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Last night I gave a brief talk to a group of women entrepreneurs. My topic: The Plight of the Working Caregiver. It seemed to resonate with them, so I wanted to share it in this forum. I am eager to hear your reactions.

“Everyone in this room knows someone who has a parent with Alzheimer’s, a child with autism, or a spouse who’s been in a terrible accident. In the United States today, there are 65.7 million family members caring for loved ones with complex medical conditions. And every one of them is juggling the medication schedule, the doctor’s visits and the minutiae of daily life, all while trying to loop in family members who may be strewn around the country, but want to know what’s going on and how they can help.

That generates a lot of stress. And for many, it gets worse.

Because 60% of these family caregivers are also working full-time jobs,  spending 40, 50 or 60 hours a week at work—then another 10, 20 or 30 hours around the edges of their workday on often emotionally charged caregiving.

The resulting stress causes statistically higher incidences of  depression, diabetes, hypertension and heart disease among caregivers than among the general population.

Clearly, these caregivers are not getting the support they need and deserve.

In fact, they mostly feel as though they have to hide their caregiving situation from their employers.

I liken the plight of the working caregiver to that of the working mother in the 1980s. Then, if your child woke up with a fever, you didn’t call the office and say you were staying home with your child; you called to say you yourself were too sick to come in. Then, when you did catch the flu, you went to work anyway, because you had already used up all your sick days.

Today, though you might be expected to do a little telecommuting, you would be considered a bad parent if you didn’t stay home to care for your sick child. But we don’t extend the same courtesy to caring for your sick parent. “They are an adult; they should be able to care for themselves. They can’t? Then put them in a home—it’s not our problem.”

Well, as a society it is our problem.

And look at the demographics: As our population ages, this is only going to get worse, so we better figure it out.

Certainly, the whole point of CaringWise is to help alleviate stress for the family caregiver. And I am very hopeful—on a lot of levels—that it will succeed. But CaringWise really just addresses the individual family’s workflow situation; what I am talking about is a much bigger societal issue.

It concerns the way we think about caregiving. The way we understand it as part of our lives.  The respect we do—or don’t—show family caregivers. The way we, as a society, choose to support caregiving.

It’s about making caregiving and the issues that surround it part of the national dialog.

Do I have an answer? No.

But I do think the first step is recognizing the problem. ”