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Work-Life Balance, Eldercare Edition

Rosanna Fay is a career-minded woman who chose not to have children, anticipating many years of freedom and professional success—and then her parents began to age. She found that caring for them limited her career just as much as children might have. In an enlightening and sad piece in The Atlantic, Fay hits on the some of the main challenges of eldercare in modern America:

My father’s health was the first to go. Congestive heart failure made heart attacks an almost annual event. I found myself bolting out of meetings and onto flights from San Francisco to Boston in response to my mother’s hysterical, long-distance calls saying, “This is it!” Over 10 years of these 911 alerts, during which my dad also underwent a number of complex surgeries, I became that colleague who cries wolf. Though my co-workers were always supportive, I saw slight eye-rolls each time I had to try to do my job from 3,000 miles away because my dad had been hospitalized and was on his deathbed. Again….

Simply put, my colleagues saw me as a ticking time bomb. All hell would break loose when my father died. On top of a funeral to organize, there’d be a house to empty and sell, and an estate to close out, all of which would take far more than two weeks.

Ultimately she had to leave the company; the demands of caring for her parents had kept her away from work so much that she had become “irrelevant.” The article does point to one partial solution to this dilemma, a dilemma that Americans will increasingly face as boomers age. Fay notes that her challenges were compounded by the lack of telework technology. Telework has come along way since her father first got sick, and it can do a lot to ease the burden of balancing work and eldercare.

But that’s not a silver bullet. Even with telework,  the costs in time and money devoted to traveling long distances at every crisis can be prohibitive. If you have parents with dementia or Alzheimer’s, suffering slow, incremental deaths, the “on-call” period could last many years. Shuttling back and forth between your state and theirs is stressful and inefficient, even if you can work from a distance when you’re with them.

Ultimately what is needed is a culture change, one that borrows from old communitarianism while using technology to invest it with a new richness and productivity. We could see a rise in intergenerational living, in which grandparents, parents, and children all live together in a single house, or a neighborhood or town. Technology makes this kind of shift possible, but it won’t alone guarantee it.  New tech and culture need to grow together to create the kind of communities that can provide the most humane care for our growing elderly population.

[Image of nurse visting a patient from Shutterstock]

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  • Corlyss

    Boy, been there and now having flashbacks reading the article. I was dealing with my mother’s Alzheimers when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. To deal with the latter effectively I eventually had to put my mom in a nursing home. It was the most difficult decision of my life, knowing how much she didn’t want to go. I heap praise on my supervisors in the Counsel’s office at NASA for their kindness and compassion in helping me cope with both situations by giving me telework 3 days a week. Of all the bosses I ever had in my 35 year career, they were exceptional and went out of their way to make me feel like I was still a contributing member of the team.

  • Corlyss

    Been there and now having flashbacks reading the article. I was dealing with my mother’s Alzheimers when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. The latter condition finally forced me to put my mother in a nursing home, the hardest decision of my life. I heap praise upon my supervisors in the Counsel’s Office at NASA for their kindness and compassion thru both ordeals. 13 years ago, telework in the federal government was not unheard of but it was rare. They gave me telework 3 days a week and went out of their way to make me feel like a contributing member of the team despite my absences.

    • Corlyss

      My apologies for the double post. There doesn’t seem to be a “delete” button on this site. When the screen rewrote, it showed no post, so I did it again.

  • Jim__L

    Well, if Fay decided to dodge responsibility for contributing to raising the next generation, at least she took responsibility for taking care of her parents. One and a half cheers for her.

    I guess we could call her an “open-faced” member of the “sandwich generation”.

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