Healthways Center for Health Research published two new studies on caregiving in May 2010. The studies examine the impact of caregiving on well-being, the impact of age on well-being, and also consider the combined effect of caring for a loved one while holding outside employment.
52 million Americans currently provide care for an ailing or disabled loved one; one in five U.S. households provide support to an aging or disabled loved one for 18 or more hours each week. Multiple demands on the Sandwich Generation and other caregivers will increase the need for flexible working arrangements, according to Joseph Coughlin, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and author of both studies.
The research found that stress increased and happiness decreased markedly as demands increased. Employed non-caregivers reported the least stress and most happiness, while employed caregivers reported the highest levels of stress and least happiness. The impact was clear on non-employed caregivers as well, although not as significant as the effects on employed caregivers.
Even caregivers of loved ones who reside in assisted living communities or nursing homes can experience caregiver stress, accompanied by guilt. Families often still carry much of the responsibility for scheduling appointments and managing medical care and finances. Some make daily visits and even continue to do their loved one's laundry in order to ease guilt, but contribute to their own stress in the process.
In terms of working caregivers, stress can be eased with social and financial support, but also with flexible working arrangements. Coughlin identifies several factors that can help companies retain caregivers as employees while boosting caregiver well-being:
- Flexible hours
- Unpaid family leave
- Paid sick or vacation days
- Workplace wellness programs