Women and Caregiving
One simply has to google “caregiver” and scroll through the images to understand one very obvious fact: caregiving is a woman’s profession. If we want to dive into the numbers, 75% of family, or informal caregivers, are female, and 89% of paid caregivers are female.
When parents’ health falters, it is the daughters who step up to coordinate care, and often perform physical care tasks themselves. With 65% of seniors still receiving primarily informal care, more often than not, it falls on women in the family to balance their ongoing daily obligations together with long-term care for older persons. The value of the unpaid care that is provided annually ranges from $148 billion to $188 billion. As women are stretched thin into many directions, it starts to feel like there is simply not enough time in the day.
The gender pay back has become a hot topic in recent years, and the caregiving burden on women is a major contributor. Approximately 20% of female caregivers transition from full- to part-time work, according to the Family Caregiver Alliance. Almost 30% pass up job promotions or new assignments, and 22% take leaves of absence. While some women have understanding bosses that take into account this added strain, more often than not taking on the responsibility of family caregiving has major implications for a woman’s career.
While the burden of family caregiving has always fallen disproportionately on women, this has only been further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. With children remaining at home for months, care for sick family members, and a heightened risk of outside help (such as cleaners and paid-aids) for older adults, the burden for some women has become too much to carry, testing their patience and endurance. This may seem like purely a “women’s” problem, but putting systems in place that bolster family caregivers is beneficial for society as a whole. Having the proper resources allows family caregivers to remain in their jobs and maintain their career paths, safeguard their mental health, and coordinate quality care.
So what resources are there that can help empower family care coordinators?
- Consult an Expert – While this may seem trivial, many family caregivers go into the process of coordinating care, or administering it blind, without receiving any advice from a professional. Gerontology consultants are professionals trained in the basic issues of aging who have a knowledge of general resources such as government entitlements, a current knowledge of local resources and how to access them and relationships with other professionals like lawyers and financial advisors. Going through the various options with a knowledgeable professional that has knowledge of resources is invaluable in forming a plan for long-term care.
- Get Support – Whether enlisting the help of a mental health professional, a spouse or an online support group, having a support infrastructure is key. The facebook group “Working Daughter” has a membership over 5000 strong, and has seen a spike of activity during the pandemic. Discussions about the safety of nursing homes, questions about dementia care, and posts simply asking for support are common.
- Accurate Assessments – Knowing what is going on with an aging parent, and getting an accurate care plan that addresses their needs is key. As older adults can sometimes conceal, or even not be aware of the extent of the support that they require, assessing their needs can be challenging and confusing. An accurate assessment ensures that your loved one is getting the right amount of care and support, without losing their independence. Agencies and families alike are understanding the need for better pre-care assessments, as well as ongoing assessment as to the changes in the state of the older adult. That is why agencies and families are turning to Sensi, an AI based powerful analytical tool that provides data-driven insights that allow family care coordinators to continuously reassess their loved one’s mental and physical state, and stay on top of care.
- Embrace Technology – Whether it’s investing in a senior-friendly tablet that eases communication and provides entertainment, or a home system that helps prevent falls and guards the mental and physical wellbeing of your loved one, technology can ease the burden of family caregiving. Technology can help you stay connected with the seniors you are caring for, and provide peace of mind for the time that you, or a paid caregiver, is not around.
Families will continue to be an important link in the chain of caregiving, whether shouldering all of the care duties or coordinating paid care. This responsibility disproportionately falls on women, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. What we can do about it is to acknowledge the difficulty of balancing children, career and long-term care, and create tools that make this precarious balancing act more manageable.
Rosalynn Carter said, “There are only four kinds of people in this world: those who have been a caregiver, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need a caregiver.” This is not a “woman’s” problem, or a family caregiver’s problem, but rather a challenge that we together as a society will have to overcome.