Are you working full time, raising a family and caring for a loved one with Alzheimer’s? Are you taking time away from your job to meet the increasing needs of your mom, dad or spouse? Are you tired, worried, feeling alone? Be assured, you are not alone.
In Illinois, approximately 587,000 sons, daughters, spouses and others are providing about 668 million hours of care per year for the 210,000 residents suffering with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. By 2025, the number of Illinois citizens with the disease is projected to reach 260,000. All of these individuals will eventually need caregivers. And as any caregiver can tell you, the journey is long and stressful, negatively affecting caregiver health, employment, income and financial security.
The Silent Productivity Killer
The sixth leading cause of death in the United States, Alzheimer’s disease is a condition in which nerve cells in the brain die, making it difficult for the brain’s signals to be transmitted properly. Symptoms include loss of thinking, remembering and reasoning skills that interfere with a person’s daily life and activities. Progressive changes to the brain are slow but devastating, with the individual ultimately depending on others for total care. It has no cure.
With more than five million Americans suffering from the disease, Alzheimer’s is a national health epidemic that cannot be ignored—particularly in the workplace, where it impacts 6.6 million employees who provide elder care. The Society of Human Resources Management cites the significant effect of this situation on employees, calling elder care “the silent productivity killer.”
An increased number of baby boomers, who are now 51 to 69 years of age, are being forced to balance work and caregiving, while some are requiring care themselves. Many caregivers report making major changes to their work schedules because of caregiving responsibilities. They also report experiencing high levels of emotional stress and depression. In addition, on average, caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s disease have to provide care longer than caregivers for other older adults.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias cost American businesses $61 billion a year! Nearly $25 billion is directly related to health, long-term and hospice costs, while lost productivity in the workplace and other costs incurred from employees caring for their loved ones total an astonishing $36.5 billion.
If you are a working caregiver, be knowledgeable about your options. Many companies offer elder care counseling and resources through their employee assistance programs. Know and understand your employee benefits and how they relate to your current and future needs, and remember that flexibility is key to balancing your family and professional career. Keep your supervisor informed of your personal situation; that way, when an emergency arises, you have a plan in place.
10 Ways to be a Healthy Caregiver
Follow these tips to be a healthy caregiver and a productive employee in the workplace.
- Understand what’s happening as early as possible. Symptoms of Alzheimer’s may appear gradually. It can be easy to toss aside changing or unusual behavior when someone seems physically healthy. Instead, consult a doctor when you see changes in memory, mood or behavior. Don’t delay; some symptoms are treatable.
- Know what community resources are available. Contact the Alzheimer’s Association to find Alzheimer’s care resources in the Peoria region. Adult day programs, in-home assistance, visiting nurses and meal delivery are just some of the services that can help you manage daily tasks.
- Become an educated caregiver. As the disease progresses, new caregiving skills may be necessary. The Alzheimer’s Association offers programs and online education to help you to better understand and cope with the behaviors and personality changes that often accompany the disease.
- Get help. Trying to do everything by yourself will leave you exhausted. Seek the support of family, friends and community resources. Use the free, personalized, online Care Team Calendar (alz.org/carecalendar) to organize family and friends who want to help. Local support groups are good sources for finding comfort and reassurance. If stress becomes overwhelming, seek professional help.
- Take care of yourself. Watch your diet, exercise and get plenty of rest. Making sure that you stay healthy will help you be a better caregiver.
- Manage your level of stress. Stress can cause physical problems (blurred vision, stomach irritation, high blood pressure) and changes in behavior (irritability, lack of concentration, change in appetite). Use relaxation techniques that work for you, and talk to your doctor.
- Accept changes as they occur. People with Alzheimer’s change and so do their needs. They may require care beyond what you can provide on your own. Becoming aware of community resources—from home care services to residential care—should make the transition easier. So will the support and assistance of those around you.
- Make legal and financial plans. Plan ahead. Consult a professional to discuss legal and financial issues including advance directives, wills, estate planning, housing issues and long-term care planning. Involve the person with Alzheimer’s and family members whenever possible.
- Give yourself credit, not guilt. Know that the care you provide does make a difference, and you are doing the best you can. You may feel guilty because you can’t do more, but individual care needs do change as Alzheimer’s progresses. You can’t promise how care will be delivered, but you can make sure your loved one is well cared for and safe.
- Visit your doctor regularly. Take time to get regular checkups, and be aware of what your body is telling you. Pay attention to any exhaustion, stress, sleeplessness or changes in appetite or behavior. Ignoring symptoms can cause your physical and mental health to decline. iBi
The Alzheimer’s Association – Central Illinois Chapter is located at 612 W. Glen Avenue in Peoria. For more information, call the 24/7 toll-free helpline at (800) 272-3900, or visit alz.org/illinoiscentral.