Increasingly, Canadians are taking on more care responsibilities for family members and friends with a long-term health illness, disability or issue related to aging. As expected, with the increased responsibility, employees are facing a number of health and related issues that impact the workplace.
In September 2013, Statistics Canada released its latest study Family Caregiving: What are the consequences? Some of the findings are confirmative, based on other similar demographic type studies, while some findings provide new insight.
Instead of looking at only Canadians age 45 years and older, as is often the case with most studies, the study looked at all potential caregivers age 15 years and older. The researchers found that eight million Canadians provided care for a family member with an illness, disability or aging-related issue. This represents approximately 28% of this group of the population. This number corresponds with previously reported numbers. (See Caregiving’s impact on the workplace.)
Of those providing care, 39% cared for a mother or father, 8% cared for a spouse, and 48% provided care to other family members (in the last 5%, care was provided to a child). Among those providing care primarily to their parents, 30% was related to aging or frailty, followed by cardiovascular disease (12%), cancer (11%) and Alzheimer’s/dementia (11%). For those caring for a spouse, cancer was the most common health problem requiring care (17%), followed by cardiovascular disease (11%) and neurological diseases (9%). And finally, aging/frailty was the most cited reason those providing care to a grandparent (56%).
Also of interest, most of the family caregivers believed they had no option but to be the caregiver. In spousal cases, 69% believed there was no other option. Of those caring for a parent, 49% believed the same.
We would expect that caregiving would have an impact emotionally, mentally and physically. What’s interesting is the degree in which these proved to be the case. Psychological distress existed in 72% of the individuals responsible for care for a spouse. This was also the case in a large portion of individuals caring for a parent (56%). With respect to impact on health, 38% of those providing care for a spouse reported that their overall health suffered, while 33% of individuals caring for a parent found the responsibilities associated with the care to be physically strenuous.
Awareness of these consequences is key to providing support to affected employees. Through open dialogue, managers can identify employees who have added responsibilities for a loved one.
By being as proactive and supportive as possible, employers can assist with stress reduction and emotional support, as well as directing the employee to resources that may be available to them. Some examples include back-up care programs, care management and advocacy programs, employee assistance programs, educational opportunities and paid leave.
Organizations can address this challenge with a well-rounded approach that includes several of the strategies and programs mentioned.