More than 42 million U.S. families, that is, 21 percent of households, experience daily limitations caring for a dependent adult. The economic value of these unpaid contributions is more than $500 billion, which is up from $375 billion in 2007.

But the cost is far greater than dollars. Working caregivers are more susceptible to poor health, eating disorders, substance abuse, and sleep maladies. These lead to reduced energy, chronic fatigue, and mood swings.

Caregivers are also more likely to develop illnesses such as heart disease and autoimmune disease. They often experience diminished concentration, withdrawal, and clinical depression. In the workplace, caregivers tend to be less productive and 29% pass promotions due to caregiving commitments.

Many will seek part-time instead of full-time responsibilities and 12% will leave the workforce to continue caregiving tasks. Few companies are addressing these issues comprehensively but when they do, solutions look like the following.

Culture and Paid Leave: The Price of Entry

Some companies have started to look at their culture toward caregiving. Logistic Health’s CEO Don Weber is one great example.

Others have taken a stab at policy, particularly around employee leave. But according to Employee Benefit News that is only scratching the surface. In a recent article they noted:

“Ending the conversation about caregiver support on paid leave would fall short of effectively supporting employee caregivers. Paid leave should be the tip of the iceberg. Having to report a reason for time off acts as a barrier to many caregivers.

Time does not guarantee that caregivers will find solutions to challenges while away from the office. If employers want to keep caregivers in the office without feeling preoccupied and overwhelmed, they should consider adding more than just time.”

Caregiving Advocates

One company, Global Institutional Solutions, provides caregiver services to employee assistance programs, corporations, insurers, and specialty markets. They have noted an uptick in demand for certain services.

Caregiver advocates are one such service. A personally-assigned caregiver advocate quickly becomes a trusted source, providing the family caregiver with guidance about ongoing challenges of caring for their loved one.

They provide one-on-one consultation and help address urgent needs such as benefit eligibility and long-term planning, answer Medicare and Medicaid questions, and much more.

Fraud and Estate Settlement

Financial abuse has been dubbed the “Crime of the 21st Century.” Protecting a loved one’s financial assets must be a priority for caregivers. Protection begins by assembling crucial documents and replacing those that are missing, conducting a credit file review, and resolution of any existing fraud.

When a caregiving journey comes to an end, it’s important to facilitate the settlement of a spouse’s estate, including credit review, file suppression, imbedded life benefits, and death notification to all relevant parties.

Information Resources

Caregivers need certain knowledge and skills both to provide the best possible care and to protect their own well-being.

Many caregivers feel they don’t have the necessary knowledge and lack confidence which exacerbates distress. Medical experts strongly advise caregivers to seek educational programs to satisfy these challenges.

An added stress factor is the selection of an appropriate, cost-effective medical provider or long-term institution.

Employers who provide educational resources – in written, audio, and visual format – and links directly to federal databases that are indispensable for initially screening medical providers and long-term institutions can greatly reduce caregiver burden.

Caregiver Health

Progressive companies provide resources for caregivers to improve their own personal health as they provide care to their loved ones. Caregivers can find helpful resources to make daily living easier, articles with topics addressing areas of stress, and tips for having a healthy lifestyle and healthy relationships.

On average, caregivers miss about 6.6 days of work per year, resulting in a loss of $2,100 of productivity per caregiver per year. Imagine how reducing that number by just a small percentage would impact caregiver health and productivity, job satisfaction, and retention.

What is your employer’s policy toward caregivers? Is your employer providing these enlightened services or are caregivers stigmatized? Please share in the comments below.