When we can’t find the right words …

Cole&PoppopYesterday was my son’s college graduation. As I drove up, I struggled to shake the feeling of loss that swept over me as I faced another big event without my parents. Since they both battled different forms of dementia, it is a blessing they are no longer on this earth, but how I miss them being able to celebrate another Engineer in the family bloodline. My Dad and Cole always ended up in giggles when the two of them got together and he would have reveled in the graduation. 

As I sat at the ceremony listening to the Valedictorian, it became clear that no matter what your age, education, or beliefs, we are all struggling to find the right words to enter into civil discourse. As she and her classmates are preparing to continue their quest to make our world a better place, the things she shared with her peers felt immediately valuable to me as I work with many who have lost the ability to handle the complications of balancing a checkbook, negotiating a contract, or even planning a meal.

The added complexity in helping a loved one is that there are the familiar habits and patterns that may put your assistance out of the realm of ‘normal’ and cause discomfort. The best way for me to start a fight with my Mom was to ask if she wanted help with the bills and the checkbook. She didn’t sense any short coming in her abilities so my words felt like a betrayal when I reminded her of the missed water payment or the fact that she signed two contracts for the same home repair with two different vendors.

 

“Approach with humility and a desire to understand,” suggests Kate Hill. Give ‘space to silence’ and ‘don’t lock the doors’ — two ideas that I think can be applied simply to the role of caregiving.

I know the impatience I felt when I was working, raising two young kids, and also trying to help out my parents. I wanted to just take over and get things done. I needed to allow more time to cross the item off of the task list and include them in the process. So too must we apply this same approach to problems we are facing in our communities, states, and country. 

When our loved ones are already losing so much, the last thing we need to do is to add to the list of losses. I’m excited to see what this generation will do for all of us and appreciate the on words she used to suggest how to be better citizens, friends, colleagues, parents, children, and caregivers. Impressed.

44 Million Unpaid American Caregivers

taskoverwhelmingYup, those of us doing it are often surprised to find out our friends and colleagues are in the same situation. Most of us step in and do it quietly. We may share the critical events as they occur, but often our feeling that this is a family duty usually means we don’t share the many ways that caregiving impacts us.

I was recently interviewed about the experience and am honored to be included in the stories that appeared in the NY Post, and Moneyish.

For those of us that have lived it, we know it’s overwhelming. My wish is that more employers will start to recognize and consider programs to help those stepping in to help their loved ones. Hoped.

How do I help from far away?

LetmemakemistakesA good friend called and wanted to know how often she should be visiting. Her sister and brother live near mom but she’s trying to chip in and do her fair share.  Is visiting every month, or every other month enough?

There really is no right or wrong answer. There is just the answer of what is right for your family.

My friend has been hiring and screening caregivers, and picking up extra projects (like getting a hospital bed at home). It turns out that her sister is overwhelmed and mom is only getting more prickly. She doesn’t want the help. She fires everyone that shows up to help for everything–from cutting the grass to helping get out and go grocery shopping.

I let her know it might be time to step back and let mom try and manage on her own. Sometimes you have to let them succeed or fail. She probably doesn’t believe she needs the help she is getting. It’s hard to do.

What if it were you? How might you like it if other people were making these choices for you–much less your own kids?

I know that she and her sister and brother are doing it out of love. They very much respect their mom. However, what you do thinking it is welcomed might not always be.

I also shared how I changed the language I used when my mom needed help, but didn’t recognize it. Could she suggest the person showing up to help around the house is one of her high school friends that wanted to visit with her mom? Could the person cutting the grass suggest he is neighbor home for the summer and just noticed that the grass needed a mow?

It took me a while to adapt and create situations that my mom could accept. Might something like this work to get her mom the need she helps but maintain her sense of self worth? I reminded her of all the things her mom lost. Her husband is gone, her sister took over her checkbook, she had to give up the car keys after the fall and hip surgery … what does she have that gives her purpose and meaning?

It’s easy to arrive and offer help, but we often neglect to recognize the need for our loved ones to maintain a sense of self-worth.

The question about how often to visit isn’t the real issue. But I know she is visiting her mom and talking with her siblings frequently. That is on top of her full time job … and her 7 children! I commend every adult child who is working to be involved. Their loved one is better off than the majority of the seniors in the United States. Appreciated. 

Caregiving Pulls Prime Age Women from the Workforce

BLSOn average, nearly one in four women aged 45 to 64 are unpaid caregivers according to the 2015-16 American Time Use Survey released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nearly one in seven women 35 to 44 are serving in this role. Apparently, since early 2000 the number of prime age women began to decline after rising for half a century. This shift coincides with a rise in the elderly population.

Thanks to my sister-in-law who shared the article in The New York Times. The topic has been debated for years and the prime motivator was believed to be caring for children, but now it’s becoming clear that many women are leaving to care for an elderly relative.

I recently wrote about The Impact of Caregiving on Employment — AARP projected that 49 percent of the workforce will be providing care in the coming years — and I am hoping that employers will start to consider how to help their workforce navigate the coming reality.

My caregiving duties lead me to leave the workforce temporarily. I had no idea how to manage work, raise kids, and help my parents. I wish I had access to information on how to be a good advocate for a loved one. Now that I’m on the other side of caring to two parents, I provide educational programs to caregivers in hopes of helping other families navigate these difficult waters. We shouldn’t all have to learn “on the job”.

Now that I work in the world of caregiving, the idea that there really is no way to easily, affordably get care is an issue I see everyday. I don’t know how we can solve that, but I am glad to see that the facts are helping bring light to this growing issue. Shared. 

 

The Impact of Caregiving on Employment

Will employers ever realize that the cost-cutting measures to remove many of the wellness programs they used to invest in could actually make a big difference to their bottom line?

The trend seems to be on encouraging better health for the employees through monetary incentives to do everything from drinking more water to getting in more steps daily. These incentives dismiss the reality that millions of employees are dealing with health issues that are not their own … and it will ultimately impact their ability to perform their jobs and sadly, ultimately their health. One study found that employers paid about 8 percent more for the health care of caregiver employees compared to noncaregivers, potentially costing U.S. businesses $13.4 billion per year.

According to AARP About half (49 percent) of the workforce expects to be providing  eldercare in the coming five years.

After living through the care of two parents, I hope more employers will consider offering something as simple as a brown bag lunch to help employees understand the choices, issues, and how to better navigate the caregiving journey.  Most of us that do these workshops as well as those that are serving in the senior community left careers after being a caregiver. We know it can be easier, better, and are doing our part to make a difference. I hope if you are still working you have gone to your employer to find out what they might have in place to help you.

The Costs of Caregiving Affect Both Individual Workers and Employers

According to a white paper on caregiving done by AARP, U.S. businesses lose up to $33.6 billion per year in lost productivity from full-time working caregivers. Costs associated with replacing employees, absenteeism, workday distractions, supervisory time, and reductions in hours from full-time to part-time all take a toll.

While it’s expected to impact nearly half of all employees in the coming years, the initial fear was the loss of the workers due to aging. Now it’s the impact of workers caring for loved ones that will take a toll on our workforce.

Add the costs from increased health expenses for caregivers to the costs of lost productivity and the total mushrooms to $47 Billion. Have you noticed corporate America?

The report shares that:

  • Some 20 percent of all female and 16 percent of all male workers in the United States are family caregivers. That’s nearly 1/5th of all employees.
  • Nearly seven in ten (68 percent) caregivers report making work accommodations because of caregiving. These adjustments include arriving late/leaving early or taking time off, cutting back on work hours, changing jobs, or stopping work entirely (see figure 1).

Workaccomodations

Family caregivers (age 50 and older) who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime. These estimates range from $283,716 for men to $324,044 for women.

For now, the numbers prove that both sides are on the losing end.

What I do know is that I lived though these statistics and can vouch that my caregiving resulted in me leaving the workforce temporarily. The impact to my lifetime wages and benefits was greater than the average. However, I enjoy my new career and wake up every day with a fire in my belly to make a difference, if even only for one person each day. Testified.

If your company is ready to put some caregiving education programs into place, you can reach me at 703.436.2827.

My Journey As a Caregiver … in 3 Parts

KaywParents2013I was asked to share my caregiving journey on Healthline. It turned into a three-part series, and might have some information that you find beneficial.

1) The Fight to Become My Parents’ Caregiver

2) What It Means to Be a Caregiver

3) The Painful Choices End-of-Life Brings for the Caregiver

I’m happy to be on the other side of the journey, and can now treasure all the skills I learned, and the moments I shared with mom and dad. Traveled.

Grief is a Sneaky Beast

lefsemakingThis Christmas marked the one year anniversary of Mom’s death. My first thought was to take a trip. I didn’t want to be at home and relive last Christmas. I had forgotten we were hosting my in-laws, so my urge to run away from Christmas at home was thwarted. However, I was happy to be able to enjoy the holiday with family around.

I recognize now how my instinct to run from problems has changed over the past decade. I couldn’t run away from the call to step in and help my parents–but I did have minor tussles with myself when things got really tough. Caregiving changed me in many ways and I have to admit this one was a change for the better.

I learned to live in the moment and focus on what is in front of me. My mother-in-law used this Christmas to pass the baton on my husband’s family tradition of making lefse for the Swedish dinner. It’s a three day process. The first day you make the dough, the second day you make the lefse … and the final day is all about eating. It was a wonderful new tradition to absorb into our holiday.

On Christmas Day, I knew I had 5 sets of eyes on me. My husband reassured everyone that I would not want to talk about mom or the event. We actually had a lovely Christmas and I only reflected fondly on my memories of both my parents who weren’t with me. I was happy to have moved through the holiday surrounded by family and know every year will get a little easier.

I was surprised to find myself in tears two days after Christmas when I walked into a Valentine display. I will never see a box of Russell Stover’s and not think of my mom. I’m still shocked at how quickly the sadness descends to remind me of my loss. However, I’m now more mindful to quickly fill that void with all blessings that currently surround me. Enriched.