In Canada, a potential crisis is popping up on the radar screens of academics and researchers. It’s called elder care.
In the U.S., issues swirling around elder care are already converging into what one expert calls a grim and complicated affair.
|Bob O'Toole says stress is intensifying|
“It’s almost a Perfect Storm scenario,” says Bob O’Toole, a Boston-based clinical social worker specializing in geriatrics since 1982.
A complex issue with numerous spinoffs, the key issue revolves around one question: “Who’s going to look after mom or dad when they are old and sick?”
It’s a topic now being raised at the dinner tables of thousands of families – and even the odd corporate boardroom.
It’s the convergence of an aging population, a workforce of Boomers hitting 55, governments strangled by budget deficits, and more women (traditional caregivers) in the workforce than ever before.
From a workplace perspective, recent studies peg losses to U.S. businesses at between $29 billion and $36 billion annually, says O’Toole.
The costs include:
* Replacing employees who leave their jobs for caregiving responsibilities.
* Absenteeism costs.
* “Presenteeism” costs, where workers are on the job having used up all their vacation and sick time, but a sick parent still needs help and the worker is stressed and distracted.
* Costs associated with supervising employed caregivers and the pressure it puts on managers.
“Some of the bigger companies are starting to deal with this, but most still don’t get it,” says O’Toole, who created his own company, Informed Decisions Inc., in 1996. The company helps families and organizations deal with elder-care issues across the U.S.
“For companies in a global competitive market, elder care is a problem,” says O’Toole. “If Boomers start retiring between 55 and 65, for whatever reason, there aren’t enough younger people coming along to replace them.
“And what we’re also seeing is that a company might want to relocate a skilled senior staff member for an important project, and that person says he can’t go because he has (elder care) responsibilities.”
The stress on the average individual is intensifying, says O’Toole. Mom and dad put in 40-hour work weeks, are still raising their own kids, and often live far away from their own parents. In the U.S., and Canada, a shortage of home health-care aids and nurses compounds the problem.
Progressive companies are beginning to address the issue. They are holding brown-bag seminars with nurses, social workers and lawyers who have expertise in geriatric concerns.
O’Toole’s company has created a 1-800 service for subscribing companies that gives their employees access to a database of elder-care information and services. For example, it allows a person in Montana, who has sick parents living in Arizona, to find the proper caregivers, medical coverage (if it exists) or even someone to make sure the parent is attending the appropriate medical appointments.
Another example: O’Toole’s firm was hired by a Boston-area family that has moved to Vancouver for business reasons, leaving their aging parents in Boston. The parents have now become ill.
O’Toole’s company did a needs analysis, made recommendations, and does all the follow-up work while the family continues to live in Vancouver.
It’s a palatable solution – but not one all families can afford.
O’Toole says one solution is for governments to put more money into a long-term elder-care program.
Just don’t hold your breath, he says.
The tax increase would be significant and the burden placed on a younger and smaller workforce following the Boomers would be political suicide.
So what to do?
It all boils down to money. The affluent will have no problems. But, like everything else in the States, he sees elders slipping into two or even three tiers of care.
Earlier this year, Prof. Linda Duxbury spoke in Calgary at a United Way function and talked about some of the results of a 2001 study of 31,800 Canadian workers she co-authored for Health Canada.
As part of the findings, the Carleton University professor said that Canadian workers had identified elder care as a nightmarish reality causing untold stress.
“In the study, the most touching comments were those written about elder care,” said Duxbury. “Some of them made me cry, because people’s lives are so intense, so difficult.”
And it is isn’t going away. Elder-care facilities are insufficient and, as our population ages, many people will be forced to take care of their parents, she said.
Professional workers who delayed having families face a unique position. They now have young children and aging parents.
Dubbed the “sandwich generation,” this group faces extraordinary challenges. Duxbury noted that 10 years ago, one in eight families had responsibility for children and parents; that ratio is now one in five.
She said a key recommendation out of the study is for government to establish a national elder-care program. How that will fly with cost-conscious politicians is questionable.
O’Toole already knows the answer south of the border. It will be left to private providers and industry to take the lead.
How this perfect storm affects society and the workplace in future years will be significant, he says.
And in some shape or form, it will be on everyone’s radar.
Web Watch: www.elderlifeplanning.com