En español | Even though Roxanne Aune's boss is aware that her 59-year-old husband has early onset Alzheimer's, he'll never know how much it impacts her work. "I feel I can't say I'm a caregiver because a red flag will go up and my boss will think, 'Oh, there's something wrong with her husband again,' " says Aune, 57, of Minneapolis. "I can't afford to be absent, or start over again, so I don't discuss this part of my life."
Aune, an auditor at a health insurance company, believes she has suffered professionally since her husband's diagnosis last year. "I feel I get overlooked for projects," she says.
For many employees, Aune's dilemma about work vs. elder care is becoming business as usual. The angst will only grow, for many reasons: Parents are living longer. Employees are working longer. More women have paid jobs, and more men are pitching in with caregiving. Smaller families mean fewer siblings to help with Mom and Dad. Federal and state budgets are slashing funds for caregiving. Families are less interested in expensive institutional care, and hospital stays are getting shorter.
The silver tsunami effect
Then there are the numbers: The sheer magnitude of boomers and others who will need help in the future guarantees an elder care tsunami. According to a June 2011 report by MetLife Mature Market Institute, the percentage of age 50-plus adult children taking care of parents has tripled since 1994. The Families and Work Institute reports that 42 percent of U.S. workers in the last five years have had elder care responsibilities and 49 percent expect to care for an older family member or friend in the next five years. And a newly released AARP study reveals that at any given time in 2009, 42.1 million U.S. family caregivers were caring for an adult with limitations, with 61.6 million providing care at some time during the year. The estimated value of their unpaid contributions was nearly $450 billion in 2009, $75 billion more than in 2007.
Many employees are in that elder care-giving boat, yet workers with work-family conflicts are often reluctant to raise the issue with superiors. They fear they'll be viewed as not committed enough, or receive bad year-end reviews. They may also think that discussing their personal life is unprofessional or sense resentment from colleagues and the boss, who may have to pick up the slack during their absences.