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How To Support a Family Caregiver

senior couple

As many of you know, my husband received his Alzheimer’s diagnosis about two years ago. At this moment, we are “rockin'” dementia, as he has retained his amazing sense of humour, I am able to be quite flexible with my work schedule, and friends and colleagues are very generous. Other family caregivers aren’t so fortunate. 

With the top end of the Boomer generation turning 73, the coming years will see an increase in family caregivers who will be responsible for either a parent, a spouse … or both … living with dementia. 

What can we say or do to support these family caregivers? What do they need from their employers and colleagues? Dementia care consultant, Rosanne Burke, has several ideas to share.

Stressed beyond belief and running on empty – that’s how Susan feels most of the time. After working all week as a bank customer service supervisor, she spends a hectic weekend at her mom’s house – cooking, cleaning, helping with personal care and running errands – before returning to work on Monday morning, leaving little to no time for herself, her spouse or her children. As a member of the growing sandwich generation, Susan strives to balance the competing demands of caring for children, her marriage, herself and a senior while working full-time.

Susan is not alone. Caregiving in Canada has reached a tipping point with more than 8 million Canadians providing unpaid care to a family member or friend. There’s a staggering number of people caring for a parent fueled by our aging population. Since age is the greatest risk factor for dementia, many of these seniors will be living with Alzheimer’s disease. Current statistics indicate there are over half a million Canadians with dementia – plus 25,000 new cases diagnosed every year.

Caring for a person with dementia is complex and time-consuming. It can take an immense toll on individuals with burn-out, illness, and depression being common among people like Susan, who often neglect their own health and put themselves last. Family caregivers express feeling isolated and stay silent with their struggles because they fear others won’t understand their situation. In a recent survey by the Alzheimer Society of Canada, 87% of caregivers wished that more people understood the realities of caring for someone with dementia. 

Why Should Business Owners Care about the Caregiver Crisis?

Caregiving is a business issue. Businesses have a unique opportunity to help employees deal with the dilemma of how to juggle a career, family and caregiving. If unable to balance these roles, many caregivers will either reduce their hours or quit their job to provide the care they want for their parent or spouse. The risks to a business owner include absenteeism due to stress, illness or burnout; reduced productivity and high turnover. It has never been more important to create a culture of compassion.

Here are some steps every business can take to support caregivers at work:

  1. Create a supportive environment and foster open communication where employees can discuss their situation and receive support.
  1. Provide employees with resources, information and referrals to organizations that can help with caregiving and self-care.
  1. Host lunch n’ learns on Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementias so everyone can learn about a condition that affects them and their coworkers.
  1. Provide healthy living activities on-site that have been shown to reduce stress, such as yoga, meditation or art classes.
  1. Allow flexible work hours or work from home arrangements to give people the time required to be with a loved one or take them to appointments.
  1. Organize a noon-hour caregiver support group so it’s convenient for people to attend.
  1. Communicate benefits and remind people of your company’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP).

It’s in the best interest of your business to create a culture of compassion so people like Susan can successfully balance work and caregiving. Your efforts will result in increased productivity, fewer sick days and less turnover and will have a lasting impact for you, your staff, their families and the community at large.

Rosanne Burke is a Dementia Care Consultant for families caring for a loved one living with dementia. She provides you with personalized support and training to create a plan and improve quality of life.

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6 thoughts on “How To Support a Family Caregiver”

  1. I have to say, my employer and co-workers were very supportive during the time my Dad was ill with Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It was a huge help to me and made it easier for me to look after him with minimal stress and burnout. I was lucky.

    • Thank you, Paul for sharing this information. I’m so glad to hear that your colleagues and employer were all supportive. Being able to communicate with everyone about this stage in our parents’ lives is so important and I’m sure that it made your situation slightly less stressful when you were at work.

  2. This is crucially important information for everyone – we all know at least one family coping with Alzheimer’s. And it is even more important for employers – this article is an excellent guideline for what they can do to help. I hope all of us share this newsletter with at least one employer.

    • Thanks, Eileen. It would be awesome if everyone shared this with an employer. Every employer likely already has at least one caregiver on staff. And … likely many employers have at least one employee in the early stages of dementia. That’s another topic for exploration but dementia begins impacting someone’s effectiveness long before it is diagnosed.

  3. So happy you have brought this info to the foreground Mary Jane. In our competitive business environments, compassion is too often regarded as unwarranted or even counter-productive. In fact, it is the opposite.

    When people are happy, and spreading compassion, they are much more productive, creative, and engaged. Emotional wellness is the engine of positive business growth. I would like to see more business leaders understand and promote this idea.

    The age of competition is coming to a close. Those who choose to be on the leading edge of happiness, love and compassion, will see their companies and profits soar above their competitors.

    The best results come from working together. Let’s all work together.

    • Thank you, Stephen. Lovely message for all of us. The best results do come from working together. The best leaders are excellent team players.

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