Caregivers are More Likely to Have Health Issues

June 8, 2010
By John Mills, Co-Founder of Being a caregiver is an incredibly stressful experience and a recent study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute has some startling conclusions about its impact.  The report examined employees serving as caregivers and found that they are more likely to suffer from health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure and depression than their co-workers. Some of the key findings in the study include:
  • Caregivers have health costs which are 8% higher than people who are not caregivers and cost employers $13.4 billion a year.
  • Employees serving as caregivers were more likely to report poor health than their co-workers.  For example, 17% of female employees ages 50 and older who were caregivers reported fair or poor health compared to 9% of non-caregivers.
  • Employed caregivers find it difficult to take care of their own health care needs and are less likely to get preventive care such as mammograms, annual physicals and preventive health screenings.
  • Caregivers were more likely to engage in high risk behavior that hurt their health like smoking or excessive alcohol use.
  • Absenteeism amongst caregivers is higher.  The study found that 10% of caregivers had missed at least one day of work during the previous two weeks.
  • Caregivers report feeling more stress at home than non-caregivers.
The report finds that employers have traditionally focused on providing eldercare assistance programs and have largely ignored the health of the caregiver.  The report recommends an integrated solution combining eldercare benefits and wellness programs so that caregiver health receives a higher priority.  The specific proposals include:
  • Combining time off programs (vacation, sick time, personal days) into one Paid Time Off (PTO) benefit that provides more flexibility.
  • Providing telecommuting options to help caregivers juggle work and home demands.  These programs are in place for many working parents and have been found to increase productivity and worker loyalty.
  • Allowing flexible schedules so people can get their work done and also tend to family needs.
  • Offering stress reduction seminars and programs to help workers cope with the difficulties of caring for a sick relative or parent.
  • Providing decision support systems to make it easier for caregivers to get information and manage care.
  • Awarding financial incentives to people who engage in wellness programs and take better care of themselves.
  • Establishing legal and financial assistance programs which can help caregivers deal with issues like Medicare, Medicaid and end of life planning.
This report highlights that caregiving does not occur in isolation and impacts all parts of the caregivers life.  The study has many excellent suggestions on how to make it easier for caregivers to balance their jobs and the needs of their loved ones.  Despite the tough economy, I hope that employers will review these findings and see that it is in their interests to assist employees who are caring for others.