Too often, caring for an ageing parent means trouble at work

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Caring for an elderly relative can wreak havoc on your work.
Caring for an elderly relative can wreak havoc on your work.

Many adults with full-time jobs who care for an ageing parent face significant work disruptions and lack employer support, a new study finds.

Work disruptions range from mild, such as adjusting work hours, to severe. Severe disruptions include moving from full- to part-time jobs, taking a leave of absence or even early retirement.

Severe disruptions

The study included 642 workers at a public university who were unpaid caregivers for seniors – typically parents, spouses or friends.

Nearly three-quarters said caregiving disrupted their work, and more than half who provided care for 10 or more hours weekly called the disruptions severe. Caring for people with mental illness or impairment was most likely to cause severe disruptions, according to the study in the Journal of Aging and Health.

Roughly a quarter of workers said they don't get support from their employer.

"What's particularly troubling – and what's new in this study – is that employees who are experiencing work interruption are much more likely to say they have unmet needs for workplace support than those who manage to keep working at the same pace," said lead author Matthew Andersson, an assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

"This tells us that employers may not be stepping up to connect informal caregivers with workplace supports they need," he added in a news release. "That makes informal caregiving an even tougher role."

More than 40% said they are caregivers for 10 or more hours a week, and 60% of that care took place within the home or less than 30 minutes away.

No support offered

Caring for one relative was most common (68%), but a considerable number provided care for two or three people.

Most (70%) caregivers helped people with chronic health conditions, and 80% cared for people with physical limitations.

Caregivers with several work disruptions were especially likely to care for people with mental illness or mental impairment.

Many caregivers don't get employer support, because it is not offered or because they don't feel able to use it, even if it is available, Andersson said.

"A big and overwhelming consequence of America's ageing population is that so-called sandwiched caregivers, typically middle-aged, caring for ailing parents while trying to work full-time and raise their own children," he said. "It's no wonder we see such high rates of work interruption among caregivers."

About one in four employed US adults provides informal care for a parent, in-law or other family member over age 65, according to the Census Bureau. That percentage is expected to rise as the population continues to age and many people live into their 80s or older.

Image credit: iStock

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