Thursday, 20 March 2014

The toll we take from caring for our elders

'Just as there was a postwar baby boom, society is now in the midst of a senior boom.' While all organisations offer parental support at or beyond that mandated by the state, provision for employees involved in eldercare is far more hit and miss. In the article that provides our lead quote, Lisa Calvano of West Chester University takes us through the literature on the psychological impact of eldercare.

Calvano’s literature review reveals a clear consensus on one point: psychological strain is substantial for people caring for elders, and higher than that experienced by those who care for children, for a number of reasons. We are less likely to plan ahead for a period of eldercare: we are flung into responsibility by a deterioration, slip, or diagnosis which is often impossible to anticipate.

In addition, the demands of childcare tend to lessen as the cared-for child becomes increasingly independent, whereas eldercare involves escalating challenges and typically a bleaker conclusion. Moreover, the role-reversal of caring for someone who was once your source of care can be a disorienting experience that is hard to process, involving a range of emotion and guilt for feeling those emotions rather than 'getting on with it'.

It's less clear whether this strain results in negative impact on workplaces. Studies disagree as to whether eldercarers take more leave from work. In addition, there is evidence that carers are as committed to and derive as much satisfaction from work as non-carers, because work offers a respite and source of accomplishment.  Eldercarers are also less likely to desire shorter working hours than those caring for children.

Not in doubt, however, is the fact that eldercare can force people, especially women, out of the workforce; the conditions that are most likely to do so are where carers are living with an elder who is experiencing cognitive impairment as part of their condition. Women are also more likely to experience poorer emotional health and depressive symptoms due to higher hours of eldercare.

Finally, the evidence suggests that a more supportive work environment - including but not limited to the presence of eldercare benefits - reduces stress, workplace disruption, and the amount that strain erodes workplace engagement. So although more remains to be understood about the degree and nature of the impact of eldercare, workplaces should feel sufficiently informed to take action to support their employees and generate a conversation about what is often a hidden burden that can be difficult to share.

ResearchBlogging.orgCalvano, L. (2013). Tug of War: Caring for Our Elders While Remaining Productive at Work Academy of Management Perspectives, 27 (3), 204-218 DOI: 10.5465/amp.2012.0095

Further reading:
Pinquart, M., & Sörensen, S. (2003). Differences between caregivers and noncaregivers in psychological health and physical health: A meta-analysis. Psychology and Aging, 18(2), 250–267. 


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