Balancing work and eldercare isn’t easy

By Wendy Johnstone
May 13, 2011

You are in a work meeting and your cell phone vibrates. You ignore it.

Two minutes later, it vibrates again. You check the number and see it’s your mother calling.

Between meetings you call her back and she tells you she needs to go to a doctor’s appointment this afternoon. You wish that she had told you earlier so that you could make arrangements, but you know that she’s struggling with short-term memory loss and you want to support her.

Over the lunch hour you find yourself calling around to your neighbors and relatives to see if they can take your mother to the doctor. You hope that someone gets back to you before your next meeting, which is out of the office.

Your last resort is to call your daughter, who is graduating from in high school this year, to take her after school.

Sound familiar?

Balancing eldercare and work situations vary tremendously and no single action plan works for everyone. Developing your own customized strategy can lighten your load and reduce stress.

It’s also important to think about caregiving as an important role in your life.

Performing well at work and being successful in your role as caregivers require similar elements — the right skills and information needed for your situation and being happy and healthy.

Caregivers need good information to make good decisions — at work and outside of work. A key strategy in balancing your role as a working caregiver is developing a workable plan.

The first step is assessing your work situation:

Does your role as caregiver cause you to arrive late or leave work early more than once? Are you required to make phone calls related to elder care while at work? Find yourself becoming tired or emotionally upset, resulting in feeling distracted at work? How would you rate the impact — none, some, high?

Being clear about your day-to-day responsibilities and what is expected of you is an important step in mapping out an eldercare plan.

Can you work flexible hours? Do you have someone who can cover for you if you need to leave the office? Does your employer know about your eldercare situation? Are you comfortable talking to your direct superior or colleagues about your eldercare situation?

What policies does your company have in place to support working caregivers? What degree of flexibility do you have in your work schedule — a lot, limited, none? What is your level of trust with an employer and colleagues — none, some, high?

Be honest with yourself. Don’t sugarcoat the situation. It won’t help you in the long run and will cause additional stress.

Finally, create a file and keep track of information about your assessment. Such documentation serves as a valuable reference when dealing with your employer, colleagues, doctors and others involved in the your aging loved one’s care.

Come back in two weeks to learn about the next step — assessing how eldercare activities affect your work and identifying possible workplace resources to provide you with the necessary support as a working caregiver. (Read that article here.)

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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