Top 10 Insider Tips for Helping Employees With Aging Parents
By Carolyn Rosenblatt, author of The Boomer’s Guide to Aging Parents, and co-founder of AgingParents.com, which provides free professional articles, toolkits and podcasts to help families learn about handling common difficulties in dealing with aging loved ones.
1. Encourage Difficult Dialogue: Encourage every employee over age 40 with parents over age 70 to have the “difficult conversation” with parents about their future. Even if the employee’s parents are perfectly healthy now, they need to know what plans their parents have, if any, for taking care of themselves if they need help and can’t manage independently at some point in the future. Adult children need to know their parents’ medical information, financial information, and legal information.
2. Be a Link to Community Resources: Know your community’s resources for aging adults, so that your employees won’t be lost in a sea of information overload or feel overwhelmed, not knowing where to start getting information. Your community’s listings for your closest Area Agency on Aging, senior centers, legal aid for elders, and social service agencies are often available in community based directories. Have one in your office and know where to find directories online.
3. Have a Lending Library: Keep good resource books on hand for your employees to access if they need them, when they are facing the crises many face with aging parents. Frequent questions regard legal, financial, and healthcare options, as well as communication with elders and other family. The best books shorten research time and reassure employees they’re on the right track. Audio books are particularly good for busy employees.
4. Outline Legal Options: Urge employees to ask their parents if they have a durable power of attorney (for finances) and a healthcare directive. These are documents everyone needs in case of emergency or if they become disabled in handling finances. If parents don’t have these things, adult children need to urge and help them to get them done. They are the absolute basic essentials. Having a will or trust is also an essential and can save a lot of time and grief later.
5. Help Employees Ask the Right Questions: Employees need to ask their parents about their financial health, so that they will know what to do if the time comes when they need to have help at home, or can’t take care of themselves. The responsible adult child should have a record of where the parents’ bank accounts are located, what other financial institutions are connected to them, and where one could find the account numbers and passwords for banking online, if a parent becomes suddenly disabled by a fall or stroke. Advice from a qualified and established financial planner can help parents make responsible plans for their own financial well being in older age.
6. Plan for Long-Term Care: Counsel employees not to assume that Medicare will take care of their parents in the future. It doesn’t pay for home care, nor for much nursing home care. Many people are shocked to discover this. Know that long term care insurance is generally not available if you’re already ill or have certain chronic conditions. Employees need to get if for themselves before they turn 70, when rates can become exorbitant, and many will be denied coverage because of waiting until it’s too late.
7. Support Caregivers This is one area where an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. Caregivers can easily experience burnout, which frequently leads to physical illnesses and poor work performance. Offering mental health support to stressed out caregivers can help keep workers on the job. If your company can build mental health counseling for caregivers into the benefit package, employees can be retained even if they do have great responsibilities for parents. If professional support is not an option, make sure you help connect employees to resources that ease the stress of caregiving.
8. Encourage employees who are caregivers to take advantage of respite opportunities and to avoid “martyr syndrome”. Female employees, especially, are often trying to be a good daughter, care for aging parents, take care of their own families and still stay on the job. Taking time away from everything should be encouraged. Develop an “escape hatch” list of places your workers can get away, relax and recharge. Encourage employees’ asking for help from friends, community and religious organizations and teach them how to do it.
9. Create an Informed Process: Consider setting up a streamlined approach to dealing with employees who are frequently absent because of having to help an aging parent. A system in place will help you help them most effectively. Perhaps routinely recommending a visit to a counselor, elder law attorney, care manager or other expert whom you know could relieve employee stress and make your job easier. If your company is facing increasing problems with absenteeism over aging parents and Family Medical Leave Act needs, consider building consults with experts in the aging field into your company’s bank of resources available as employee benefits. It will be worth the investment in the long run.
10. Encourage your employees to use professional helpers if they are distance caregivers for parents who do not live in the area. We recommend professional geriatric care managers, often nurses or social workers, who are skilled in being a family’s “eyes and ears” who can look in on an elder regularly and report to the family, easing stress and worry. Some EAP’s are now offering the services of GCM’s as a part of the EAP program for companies who appreciate how this resource can reduce absenteeism and loss of employees.
For more information on helping employees with aging parents, visit www.AgingParents.com