I first became aware of the wilderness of these issues when I was helping my parents through their later years. My father lived on the other side of the country, so my caregiving for him was largely long distance. When my mother started to decline, I knew I did not want to be a remote caregiver again, and I was able to move to be close to her. Even though I was better prepared for the second round of caregiving, I learned many different lessons.
Over the years I found myself telling people who were facing similar situations what I had learned; they were starting from the same place of knowing virtually nothing about elder care, caregiving or health care. I decided to look for a way to spare others from the steep learning curve. In order to broaden my knowledge (and establish some credentials), I enrolled in the Patient Advocacy certificate program at UCLA Extension. That program covered the essentials of the US health care “system,” including health care insurance, communicating with health care providers, crisis and conflict management, and ethics. I wanted hands-on advocacy experience as well, and have been a certified Ombudsman in the Long Term Care Ombudsman program for more than four years. As an Ombudsman, I advocate for residents in skilled nursing and residential care facilities on issues ranging from cold food to lost property to pain management and elder abuse.
My ultimate goal in starting Square One is to deliver education on managing caregiving and health care through the workplace; many people struggle to balance a job or career with caregiving, and that number is increasing fast as the Baby Boomers surge past age 65. Few people seem to realize how big an issue this is. At the national level, groups that study the workplace have calculated the lost productivity in US businesses due to elder care responsibilities to be as high as $32 Billion a year. Healthcare costs for employees with caregiving responsibilities are estimated to cost US employers an estimated $13.4 Billion a year more than for employees without caregiving responsibility.
At the individual level, some 70% of working caregivers report difficulties at work due to their dual roles and that they need some workplace accommodation. Almost all of those (69%) experience some change in their employment, such as reduced hours, a leave of absence, workday interruptions like arrive late/leave early/extended lunch hours, or have received warnings about poor attendance or performance. Others turn down promotions, choose early retirement, or give up working altogether, which results in a significant lifetime loss of income, health care and pension benefits, as well as reducing Social Security payments. Women who become caregivers for an elder lose an estimated $324,044, and men lose an estimated $283,716.
These statistics reflect the sad reality that the US has lagged in creating the infrastructure needed to support our aging population. Health care, housing and transportation are three of the key elements in creating elder-friendly communities, and most of the country falls short on all three counts.
This situation is compounded by the fact that most people do not know how to find the resources that do exist. I created Square One Elder and Health Advocacy LLC to address that part of the problem – connecting people with information and facilitating conversations about caregiving, aging and health care. I hope you will join me as I explore these issues in future posts.