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]