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Posted: September 15, 2004

Professional Caregiving

Turning ?Presenteeism' on its Ear, and Other Musings From a Study on Long-Distance Caregiving

Have you heard the term ?presenteeism?? It was coined not too long ago by a clever demographer. If absenteeism refers to the situation that occurs when someone doesn't show up, for example in the workplace, then ?presenteeism? is the opposite ? where a worker shows up but is ?absent? in mind from the job due to distractions related to caregiving demands.

So, how can we turn presenteeism in caregiving on its ear?

To do this, let's first look at some of the current stats on long distance caregiving, taken from the recently published MetLife study in collaboration with the National Alliance for Caregiving:
  • Visits upward of twice a month were common even for the average long distance caregiver who lived about 450 miles from their family member.
  • A quarter of these caregivers identified themselves as the primary care provider.
  • An average of 22 hours each month was spent transporting, shopping, cooking and managing finances for nearly 75% of respondents (1,130 were contacted for this online survey).
  • Approximately half of the care providers were managing the array of services needed to keep their family at home, reporting that almost one day per week was taken up with this task.
  • More than 75% of these respondents were employed either full-time or part-time.

Ok, so that sets the stage for work and financial implications, in which the most stunning finding was:

  • 40% reported needing to request workplace scheduling changes in order to meet this demand, and more than a third reported missing work to manage their caregiving responsibilities.

On a financial impact note:

  • Nearly $400 each month was spent by the long distance caregiver for travel and other purchases related to this effort ($,4800/year!). This jumps to nearly $750 for female caregivers who also support the services used by those she provides care. Ouch, I say!

All this information was taken from the executive summary of the Long Distance Caregiving Study, which has some important nuggets of information for those of us working to facilitate the efforts of caregivers to provide the most appropriate, affordable and reliable care for their loved ones, as well as provide support for our own employees who face caregiving demands.

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Nuggets and other musings:

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Communication facilitation using bridge lines and online conferencing: Bridge lines as a newer technology are facilitating family ?meetings? without the broken-telephone syndrome (?But, she said you said that they said?). Many businesses have access to conference calling, and opening this up for personal caregiving-related discussions would be an innovative way to demonstrate your acknowledgement of the communication difficulties with all family members in the effort to coordinate services. Facilitating family communication would expand the care network for your employee who has taken on the lion's share of caregiving, despite other family members being closer in proximity to the aging family member.

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Long distance care managers: Whether your social service team already provides support to the caregiver, local or long-distance, training in the particular issues that working long-distance caregivers face, and solutions to improve caregiving efforts, is highly recommended. Incorporating a trained virtual family mediator could be a spin off for your clients whose adult children are at odds with one another over their parent's care. (Sibling discord over care issues either chews up a lot of daytime phone calls, and creates emotional distress, limiting productivity),

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IADL service offerings: our industry has seen a need to pick up additional services as we expand the caregivers ability to maintain their loved one in there present residence. Maybe you offer escorted medical trips and shopping, but what about financial management services on-site and linked to the care provider's accounts? The easier we make the family caregiver's job in maintaining their loved one's functioning, the longer our services will be used by them. Or, how about exploring the growing number of retired seniors who spend on average 44 hours of TV viewing due to lack of activity? Developing a senior volunteer corps that supports care receivers whose families are out of town or employed full-time and cannot take time for medical appointments. Similar to a Big Brother/Big Sister relationship, this volunteer opportunity offers a win/win outcome to those with time on their hands, who can appreciate the needs of aging persons with activities of daily living.

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Information Access: This recommendation came out of the study and is very interesting and seemingly doable. If a caregiver's employer uses the services of EAP or resource and information and referral services for their workers, why not share access to eldercare resource information with identified employee family members? The cost might actually offset the cost incurred in the workplace when the employee spends valuable hours at the office arranging or managing services for a loved one in another city. Why not support the employee's siblings, for example, who live in town with the parents, but for whatever reason, don't have access to resources. Again, caregiving team facilitation/mediation would be the first step in helping your employee spread the work among available family members.

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Travel Miles Pool: This is another great suggestion from the authors of the MetLife study! Employers could choose to assign all or a portion of business travel miles to the caregiving travel of employees. This is a goodwill gesture that supports the workers and demonstrates the generosity of the workplace in offering its employees access to free or reduced travel for documented care needs without taxing limited cash resources.

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As discussed in an earlier column, the resources we invent to support the work of our clients and their caregivers are just as importantly implemented ?at home,? meaning in your workplace for your employees. Caregiver friendly workplaces will be attractive work sites for the growing number of adult children who have their family members' best care in mind.

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These are also the type of workers who are committed and appreciative of the employer who puts its money where its mouth is. ?Do as I do? is the best way to model commitment to not only serve the potential customers out there, but our own employees and colleagues facing this growing caregiving phenomenon.

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Sylvia Nissenboim is a licensed clinical social worker and who has been working in the field of adult day services in the St. Louis area. She is the director of four adult care and enrichment centers for the American Red Cross and also operates a personal and professional coaching firm, LifeWork Transitions, specializing in caregiving concerns, adult day care management and other aging services, such as virtual coaching and family care giving support groups. She co-authored The Positive Interactions Program, is a national speaker, and has served as president of the Missouri Adult Day Care Association and as a member of the Missouri Governor's Advisory Council on Aging..

© 2004 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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