The truth about the dementia boom and the possible impact on your career
My baby boomer husband laughed when he reminded his sons that he used to change their diapers. He jokingly pointed out that he needed to be extra nice to them because roles could be reversed in a few years. This came up in a conversation about his retirement years. Amidst the laughter and the talk about the anticipated blissful empty nest retirement years, a hard truth emerged.
- Baby boomers will create another boom: in less than 15 years, Alzheimer Canada predicts that 934,000 Canadians will be living with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. That’s a 66% increase in less than a generation.
Dementia is an overall term for a set of symptoms that are caused by disorders affecting the brain. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia. Symptoms may include memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, severe enough to reduce a person’s ability to perform everyday activities, requiring them to have consistent supervised care. Dementia is progressive, which means the symptoms will gradually get worse.
Millennials and their children are going to be the caregivers of tomorrow.
- Some millennials have already become caregivers to their middle-aged parents. Fifteen percent of persons with dementia are under the age of 65.
The impact of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias engulfs whole families and communities.
Parking parents with dementia in nursing homes isn’t going to be the first option in an already overburdened health care system with limited capacity. Increased capacity in seniors’ residences requires time and increased tax dollars.
In the meantime, family caregivers will continue to provide more than 19.2 million hours of informal unpaid caregiver time conservatively valued at $1.2 billion of unpaid care. On top of that, caregivers themselves will incur their own health costs as a result of the impact of the care giving burden.
What impact will this have on millennials who are currently building their careers?
- Tough choices and negotiation
Faced with caring for ailing parents and raising young children, millennials and mid-career professionals will have to make some tough choices. Women often end up being primary caregivers. They should not assume that their employers won’t accommodate their needs. Putting career advancement on hold for a few years and declining interesting but demanding opportunities are valid options. However, this may not be possible for everyone. Financial constraints and family commitments may require some employees to stay in the workforce.
Being clear with employers about your needs is a worthwhile course to take. Asking for a flexible work schedule, adjusted compensation in exchange for caregiver benefits and offering to make up time taken during work hours are some areas which you should consider for negotiation.
For example, Michelle Obama’s negotiating statement could be adjusted to reflect the need to afford time and care for an aging parent affected by dementia.
I told my boss, “This is what I have: two small kids. My husband is running for the U.S. Senate. I will not work part time. I need flexibility. I need a good salary. I need to be able to afford babysitting. And if you can do all that, and you’re willing to be flexible with me because I will get the job done, I can work hard on a flexible schedule.” I was very clear. And he said yes to everything.
How should employers respond to the imminent upsurge in the number of caregivers in the workforce?
- Sensitivity in the workplace
It is important for employers to realise that there is much at stake when the needs of their caregiver employees are not addressed. Reduced productivity, increased absenteeism and disability, the loss of highly skilled employees, and increased conflicts among employees are a few adverse consequences.
Some ways in which employers can support employees and optimise the talent of their caregiver employees include –
- Extending employee benefits programs to include employee assistance programs with counselling and information resources to support employees who are caregivers, for their own children and aging parents;
- Policies to help employees reduce stress – e.g. protocols that set boundaries for the transmission and response to emails after work hours,
- Training for managers to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress and burnout and how to support employees experiencing difficulties handling work and caregiving responsibilities; and
- Worksite training to support employees better balance their time at work and personal responsibilities.
A good reference resource for employers and employees is a study on balancing childcare and eldercare by Linda Duxbury PhD and Christopher Higgins PhD.
More information on the current state of Dementia in Canada, consult the recent report of the Canadian Institute for Health Information.