For many in the workforce, a second job awaits at home: that of a caregiver to an aging or ailing parent or other family member. This unpaid role is especially common in Pennsylvania, given nearly 1 in 5 Pennsylvanians is 65 or older.
A study issued last year by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association (BCBSA) found these caregivers have poorer health than the general population due to the added stress and pressure of the caregiver role. For example, 1 in 4 unpaid caregivers reported feeling more stress trying to balance work and family during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those health disparities were even greater for caregivers in communities with a majority Black or Latino population.
A new report from the BCBSA tallies the financial toll of caregiving, and the findings are equally concerning. The report estimates the economic impact of caregiving in the U.S. is $264 billion annually, including:
- $44 billion from loss of jobs and loss of incomes due to absenteeism related to the obligations of caregiving.
- More than $220 billion in indirect lost income due to the poor health of caregivers, largely caused by stress and a lack of attention to their own health.
The report estimates 800,000 American workers experience some length of absenteeism due to caregiving – some caused by the demands of tending to an ailing relative, and some due to their own health issues stemming from the stressful caregiver’s role.
“It’s understandable that the stress of a caregiver’s home situation can carry over into the workplace,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health at Capital Blue Cross. “An employee who is overwhelmed or distracted by the responsibilities of caregiving might struggle with productivity or absenteeism. That negative impact on job performance can lead to even greater stress for the caregiving employee, and possibly even create stress for co-workers.”
Employers can help alleviate these issues for caregivers in part by raising awareness of the need for preventive care.
Wellness visits and other preventive measures can help identify physical and mental health issues earlier, helping to mitigate the negative impacts and, in some cases, deter employees/caregivers from resorting to unhealthy options such as alcohol or tobacco use.
The use of telehealth technology – providing medical services through phone or video conference – also can be a useful tool for caregivers who lack the time for in-person visits with a medical professional. Capital Blue Cross, for example, offers a Virtual Care app that provides easy access to physicians, counselors, psychologists, or psychiatrists from the convenience of home.
“Giving caregivers easier access to resources to help them maintain their physical and mental health can make a big difference,” Batzler said. “If we can help caregivers take better care of themselves, it helps them be better caregivers and that can help them feel less stressed and more productive outside of their caregiving role.”