By Colin Hawes, Head of Group Income Protection Claims and Medical Underwriting at Generali Employee Benefits UK
As our population ages - and so too our workforce - dementia is becoming all too significant for many who are combining work and caring for older, sick or disabled parents and other loved ones.
Just over half (53%) of those caring for someone with dementia said their work had been negatively affected due to their caring responsibilities and the associated stress, anxiety and tiredness, according to a survey by Carers UK and Employers for Care.
Such is the problem for the economy and society - not just in the case of dementia but for all carers - that the government recently proposed an action plan to help ensure improved employer support.
What is dementia?
Dementia describes different brain disorders that trigger a loss of brain function, Alzheimer’s disease representing the most common type. A terminal condition, symptoms include memory loss, confusion and problems with speech and understanding. Dementia represents one of the main causes of disability later in life, ahead of cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Key facts & figures
Half the UK’s 6.5 million carers are juggling paid work alongside caring. Within the total population of carers, the number of people caring for a loved one with dementia is rising and is set to reach 850,000 by 2020.
The challenge of combining work and caring takes its toll on the body, mind and finances. It’s telling that 72% of carers in the UK said they’d suffered mental ill health as a result of their responsibilities, according to Carers UK.
It’s perhaps unsurprising then that 1 in 6 leave work or reduce their hours to care, according to employers’ membership forum Employers for Carers. But unless an employer has actually experienced first hand the pressure of being a carer, it’s understandably difficult to know where to start when it comes to ensuring appropriate support.
The reality of caring
A recent Radio 4 ‘You and Yours’ podcast, broadcast on 14 June 2018, which involved an interview with a carer, summed up the pressures. The interviewee had given up work to care for her mum, who was diagnosed with dementia.
Her mum moved in, the house had to be adapted and the daughter quit her job and became a 24/7 carer. She rarely left the house in the 2.5 years until her mum passed away because her mum required constant surveillance.
The interviewee explained that her mum became very childlike with no sense of danger, neither did she have any sense of time so her medication had to be carefully monitored. She needed routine when it came to dressing, eating, everything really.
The daughter didn’t have the time or impetus to care for herself during this time. Once her mum passed away, she was left with feelings of inadequacy, isolation and a loss of confidence. Now at the age of 59 she’s left with no job, no pension and no training.
This is something that the UK economy can ill afford.
Impact on the economy
According to projections by Mercer in its Workforce Monitor Report, there will be 300,000 fewer workers under the age of 30 over the next eight years, while there will be one million more aged over 50 as a result of falling net migration and ageing baby-boomers.
The overall conclusion? Companies need to think more creatively about how to attract a more diverse group of people, including the over 50s.
Our ageing society and workforce necessitates improved support for carers. In short, it’s something that makes strong business as well as social sense.
Government action plan
It’s this kind of thinking that led to the recent publication of the Department of Health’s Carers Action Plan 2018-20, a two year cross-government plan on how to improve the available support for carers in the UK, including the consideration of dedicated employment rights specifically for carers.
This includes proposals to make the right to request flexible working available from an employee’s first day. Currently, a statutory six-month tenure exists before an employee can make this request.
In addition to flexible working, the report’s employment and financial wellbeing section highlights initiatives across three additional key areas: improving working practices, returning to work and financial support.
Three steps to becoming a more carer-friendly employer
1. Adopt a best practice approach to employing carers.
Investigate membership of employer support forums such as Employers for Carers - which offers training, consultancy and a range of practical toolkits including ‘Developing a carers’ policy’. Also get involved in schemes like the Happy to Talk Flexible Working scheme.
2. Ensure signposting is tailored & appropriate.
Better equip your line managers to know what information is available to employees and when a short-term absentee might require professional support.
For example, Generali works with MorganAsh, which has a team of nurses who are available for services including early intervention interviews if it looks like an absence may become long-term. Maggie Earl, Operations Manager at MorganAsh, says: “We can help find out all the factors of what’s preventing an employee from returning to work and signpost them to appropriate support.”
Kay Haighton-Lloyd, Nurse Manager at MorganAsh and someone with a first-hand experience of being a carer, adds: “Dementia is a very personal disease so the needs of patients and their carers will be very different from one to the next. It’s important that support is flexible and carefully tailored to the needs of both the employee and employer.”
3. Maximise employee usage of added value services. Regularly communicate to employees the support services that may already be freely available to them. Group income protection, for example, can include eldercare support services via Employee Assistance Programmes (EAPs) and second medical opinion services.
In addition to access to counselling and support services in everything from debt management to bereavement, EAPs may also include things like home-based assessment for a loved one after an unplanned overnight stay in hospital. This involves a report written by an occupational therapist experienced in eldercare, including care package recommendations where assisted living is required.