Keeping Your Career While Caring for a ParentKeeping Your Career While Caring for a Parent

Finding the balance between family caregiving and paid work can be a high-stakes challenge. A recent national survey found that about half of caregivers have trouble balancing their paid jobs and their unpaid caregiving. But as more Baby Boomers move farther into their retirement years, the need to combine informal caregiving and paid work is only going to grow.

Caring for a Parent and Keeping Your Career

If you’re a working caregiver now or think you might be in a few years, here’s what you need to know to get it all done:

1. Balancing a Career and Caregiving

According to the AP-NORC survey, which included 772 long-term caregivers age 40 and older, most caregivers also try to hold down paying jobs. The Family Caregiver Alliance says that there are more than 43 million Americans providing care to adults and children, and more than 15 million of those caregivers are taking care of someone with dementia.

Despite the fact that men are now 40% of all senior family caregivers, per a new AARP report, they say they get much less support from employers than women caregivers do.

Both men and women sometimes feel pressured to cut back hours, pass up promotions or retire early to handle caregiving. These options can can reduce day-to-day stress, but can create financial strain. Before you make any major career decisions, take the time to weigh your options and talk to your boss about ways to make work and caregiving happen. News anchor Richard Lui’s eldercare story provides a great example of how to decide what you need, how to plan for the talk, and how to collaborate with your boss.

2. How FMLA Can Help You

The Family and Medical Leave Act may be helpful if your situation meets certain requirements, which this FMLA article explains in detail.

In general, if you’ve worked at least 1,250 hours for your employer in the past 12 months and they are either a public agency or a private company with at least 50 employees, you may be eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave every 12 months. The person you’re caring for must be your parent or spouse (in-laws aren’t covered under FMLA), and they must have a serious medical issue.

Whether or not FMLA leave is available to you, there are many other ways you can parcel out your workload at home to make caregiving easier and more rewarding.

3. How to Delegate Your Tasks

In general, there are three ways caregivers can make their chore load more manageable:

  1. Ask family members and friends to help
  2. Pay for help with household tasks to free up more time for caregiving
  3. Pay for caregiving help.

If you have reliable family members who can pitch in with tasks in person or pay for things from afar, invite them into the caregiving loop. Share information, ask for their input and accept their offers of help. You can read detailed information on managing your sibling relationships while caring for your parents from the Family Caregiver Alliance.

Having help with errands and household chores can free up a lot of time and mental energy for caregiving and paid work, and may reduce the number of times you need to leave the office early to pick up food or prescriptions. Even if you don’t need to use these services all the time, it’s a great stress-buster to have them available for those times when you simply can’t be in two (or more) places at once.

Most major cities now have grocery and meal-delivery services that you can use to shop from your phone. Weekly or biweekly housecleaning and laundry services can take some of the physical strain out of your routine. A reliable handyman can help you keep your home in shape while you’re focused on caregiving — important for your quality of life and safety at home. If you’re adding caregiving to a routine that includes pets, now might be the time to look into mobile groomers, professional dog walkers and pet sitters for those times when Fido might otherwise get overlooked.

Sometimes, the workload of caregiving is too much for one or even two people to handle on their own — for example, if you have a parent who wakes at night and wanders, you still need a good night’s sleep so you can function on the job. In-home care can ensure that your dad or mom has company, help with basic tasks and supervision. Many home care providers will also drive clients to appointments and stores, which can also help you focus on work when you’re on the job. If your folks like getting out of the house, consider adult day programs that include exercise routines, one or two meals and social activities, and help with basic medical tasks if they need it. Both adult day programs and in-home care can be a good option for occasional respite care, too, when you need a break, are ill, or need to travel for work.

4. How to Cover the Cost of Outside Help

Not only does caregiving cost potential income, but it comes with costs of its own. A 2016 AARP survey found that the average family caregiver spends more than $6,900 of their own money each year on expenses related to caregiving. That’s why even if you’re busy with work and care, it can pay to know all the funding options you may have for caregiving.

Take the time to explore all these possible resources:

Aid & Attendance pension benefit: The Aid & Attendance program isn’t as well known as it should be. A&A is administered by the VA and provides a monthly payment to cover in-home or nursing home care for veterans who need care, veterans with sick spouses and widows of veterans. The program is open to low-asset vets who served during a time of war as defined by Congress (even if they didn’t serve in a combat zone) and meet certain other requirements. You can find detailed information about Aid & Attendance application requirements and benefits at SeniorAdvisor.com’s sister site, VeteranAid.org.

Long-term care insurance: If your parents have long-term care insurance, go over the terms of the policy with them to see what services are covered and for how long. You may be able to hire in-home help to cover nighttime or workday hours, or to help out in the evenings if your parent has dementia and exhibits sundowning behaviors.

Medicaid: Don’t assume that your parents don’t qualify for Medicaid because they own cars and a home. Each state sets its own asset and income limits, but homes and vehicles are excluded from consideration. That means that if your folks don’t have much income and don’t have much in the way of savings or investments, they may be eligible, even if they have a car and a house. This posts separates the myths of Medicaid from the realities. For details on how to apply, visit Medicaid.gov.

Savings: If your parents have retirement savings and need care, now may be the time for them to access that nest egg. Doing so gives your family more options for high-quality help, and it can prevent you from falling behind on your own retirement-savings goals or having to cut back on work hours. If your parents have investments or a life insurance policy with a cash value, it’s a good idea for them to talk to their financial advisor and tax planner before accessing those funds, to avoid tax-time surprises.

This senior-care financial checklist can help you identify all your possible sources of help.

5. How to Find Reliable, Quality Caregiving Help

When you’re looking for concierge services like grocery delivery and help with errands, ask your friends and neighbors who they use and why. If they have a company they like, ask if they can share a promo code with you — each of you will get a discount if you use it. And if your first foray into online concierge services doesn’t pan out, try another company.

For eldercare help, start by asking your friends and neighbors if they can recommend home health agencies, local programs or specific professional caregivers. Get in touch with the local Area Agency on Aging to get details about specific options in your city or town. You can also browse care options by location and type of service on SeniorAdvisor.com.

Once you have a list of possible choices, check online reviews to see if there’s feedback from clients, employees and family members. For each resource you’re seriously considering, ask lots of questions before you make a decision. You can use this detailed checklist for in-home care providers to find out about agencies’ licensing, employee background checks, payment options and services. If you’re thinking about adult day programs, this checklist covers safety, services and social elements.

Keeping your career while caring for a parent isn’t easy, but it is possible with the right help. If you need more information about caregiving resources near you, you can get in touch with SeniorAdvisor.com at 1-800-805-3621.

Casey Kelly-Barton is an Austin-based freelance writer whose childhood was made awesome by her grandmothers, great-grandmother, great-aunts and -uncles, and their friends.

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