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Employees Caring for Loved Ones Show Higher Risks for Chronic Conditions



Workers caring for a child or aging parent face burnout, or worse. Here’s the kind of support they need.

Are your workers part of the “Sandwich Generation?” If they are caring for both an aging parent and children, they are. And if they’re like most of their peers, those roles are adding significant stresses to their life, affecting not just their productivity at work but also their emotional, mental and physical health.

COVID-19 has only intensified the stress, anxiety and pressures that come with being a caregiver. Many employers have begun to recognize this and are seeking out caregivers among their ranks to ensure that they have the support to remain healthy and productive.

Dual roles for the worker

According to a recent Harvard Business School study, 73 percent of U.S. workers are caring for a child, parent, spouse or friend. About 80 percent of employees in this study admitted that caregiving affected their work productivity, and 32 percent left a job because of their caregiving duties.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made maintaining a work/life balance more complicated. For parents, more kids are being schooled at home due to the closure of schools, and young adults in icollege have increasingly shifted to online and off-campus learning. And with rising coronavirus transmission rates at long-term care facilities, many families of the sandwich generation have chosen to bring their aging parents into their home for their safety.

When the older loved one is also combatting Alzheimer’s disease, dementia or other cognitive disorders, the attention and care they need on a 24/7 basis can be considerable, if not overwhelming to the household.

Health of the caregiver is at risk

Whether as a spouse, parent, child, friend or aide, caregiving can be exhausting, even if a child, parent or spouse does not have special needs. From running errands to picking up groceries or prescriptions, transporting family members to doctor appointments and therapy sessions, or delivering personal care to a wheelchair-bound family member, the caregiver is at increased risk of burnout. That risk is only elevated when that same caregiver is simultaneously juggling deadlines and other pressures to deliver on job-related projects.

According to a 2020 survey of 1,000 adults conducted by Morning Consult for New York Life on sandwich generation members:

  • 43 percent are spending less time on rest and relaxation
  • 39 percent are sleeping fewer hours
  • 37 percent are exercising less

It’s not surprising to see evidence of how caregiving is taking its toll on personal health. According to a 2020 Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) study on the health of caregivers, 26 percent had poorer health, as measured by the BCBSA Health Index, compared to a benchmark population, due to the stress and pressure of their caregiver role.

The BCBSA study found caregivers in the Millennial age group were more likely to experience stress-related conditions than a benchmark population. They reported to have:

  • 82 percent increase in hypertension
  • 60 percent increase in anxiety
  • 64 percent increase in major depression
  • 59 percent higher rate of hospitalization

Support and tools for caregivers

A common refrain from the caregiver community is that before you can take care of someone else, you have to take care of you. The Mayo Clinic offers a comprehensive toolkit for the at-home caregiver, available here. From helping caregivers recognize the warning signs of stress to managing and diffusing the many emotional pressures they face, the toolkit reinforces the idea that caregivers should not carry the weight of responsibility alone.

Health insurers, including Horizon Blue Cross Blue Shield of New Jersey (Horizon BCBSNJ), have also created resources for caregivers. For example, the Horizon Behavioral Health program  provides members with a full range of services and support where, when and how they need it.

Horizon’s Behavioral Health hotline to support and services (1-800-626-2212) operates 24 hours a day, 7 day per week. Plus, Horizon BCBSNJ has been expanding its services and offering them via telehealth.

Horizon BCBSNJ has also developed a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program to help employers with 1,000 or more workers connect their employees to counseling and care services. This EAP takes a holistic approach that’s designed to help employees overcome personal challenges at home so they can improve their quality of life and excel in the workplace.

The number of people providing care and support to an older parent, spouse or other loved one will only grow as baby boomers, Millennials, Gen Xers, Yers and Zs become grayer and live longer. That makes it all the more important for everyone to use the tools and techniques at our disposal now to protect our own health today and in the future.