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New Research Shows Toll of Caregiving on Work and Career

By Jacqueline Ahearn | July 4th, 2019

The effects of dementia are well-researched and much discussed. However, what often goes unnoticed is the effects of being a caregiver for a loved one with dementia. A new study looks specifically at working caregivers and the toll caregiving can have on a person’s career and work/life balance.

Unmet needs of a caregiver can be a serious problem, and this is especially true in the workforce. The study, conducted by researchers from Baylor, Louisiana State University, and the University of Iowa and published in the Journal of Aging and Health, focused on the negative effects of informal (e.g. unpaid) caregiving on the caregiver’s career, but also tracked lifestyle and health challenges. 

“What’s particularly troubling — and what’s new in this study — is that employees who are experiencing work interruption are much more likely to say they have unmet need for workplace support than those who manage to keep working at the same pace. This tells us that employers may not be stepping up to connect informal caregivers with workplace supports they need. That makes informal caregiving an even tougher role.” says lead author Matthew A. Andersson, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology at Baylor University’s College of Arts & Sciences.

Among the most important aspects of the study are the findings that:

  • Nearly three-fourths of the caregivers experience mild to severe work interruption.
  • More than 40 percent of caregivers reported being involved in caregiving 10 or more hours weekly
  • More than half of those who serve as caregivers 10 or more hours weekly reported severe interruption of work.
  • While caring for one family member was most common (68 percent), a sizable number oversaw two or three.

Previous research has looked at other effects of caregiving, but this research focuses on workforce support. By studying data from 642 individuals at a large public university who were informal caregivers for anyone 65 or older — often parents, spouses or friends — the authors of this study made new discoveries. They were able to identify that a significant portion of the work related stressors faced by caregivers is due to a lack of workplace understanding and support.

Andersson’s suggestion to change this lack of support? “[S]upervisors should see their power for what it is: they shape culture more than they realize.”

The findings of this study are significant to a better understanding of the stresses and challenges faced by informal caregivers. The study can help shape understanding, awareness, and better social supports for such caregivers. More research on healthcare and workplace systems to support informal caregivers is needed, but this study illuminates where to begin and clarifies what informal caregivers need assistance with.

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