Friday, 24 June 2016

Ageism in 2016

A recent report released by Revera and Sheridan Centre for Elder Research has concluded that "Ageism continues to be widespread in Canada, and tops the list as the most tolerated form of social prejudice by a wide margin when compared to gender or race-based discrimination" (Revera Report on Ageism: Independence and Choice as we Age, page 8). Perhaps the reason it is so widespread is because it was never identified as discrimination until recently. We all know about sexism and racism and know both have been rallied against for many, many years. But Ageism... much less so. With an aging population and the evident vibrancy of many 'new' seniors, this has now become something we are paying attention to and identifying.

25 years ago, it was not uncommon for people to be very paternalistic when it came to care decisions for their senior loved ones. I recall many occasions as a hospital social worker when children of seniors asked if they could apply for nursing homes without telling the person directly involved. Many families just didn't understand that if someone was competent, no matter how old they were, they had the right to make their own decisions even if others didn't agree.  Those of us involved in discharge planning, breathed a sigh of relief when CCAC began managing long-term care and insisted that that senior involved be informed and signed the applications themselves.

The interesting thing about Ageism and perhaps what makes it so very pervasive, is that people who are ageist don't always realize what they are doing or saying is harmful. It is couched in a belief that one is providing 'care' or taking the burden of looking after everyday things away from someone. What many fail to recognize that in taking away someone else's ability to make decisions for themselves, you are negating their importance and value. Every human adult wants to feel independent and have dignity and control over their lives for as long as they are mentally able to.  And while children may worry about their elder parents, assuming they need guidance, assistance and direction when they have not asked for it, is discriminatory and can cause far more harm than good.  

Combating Ageism will take some time. Awareness is the first step. Change in attitudes and public policy will take some time. I suspect that with each passing year and in large part because of the 'silver tsunami'  we will be forced us to look at our perceptions of aging, care and service provision for seniors. We are entering a time of great opportunity and innovation for both seniors and those who work with them. And our well-spoken and industrious baby boomers of today will likely lead the way by insisting that maintaining one's independence and quality of life well into our senior years is both a right and a necessity.

The Revera/Sheridan Centre report can be downloaded at www.ageismore.com

Monday, 13 June 2016

Working Caregivers

I remember the years when I had young kids and was working full time an hour away from home. Every time one of them had a sniffle, I worried that the next day would mean that childcare would be an issue. Those early years involved flexibility and always being prepared. I would imagine, being a caregiver for an elderly relative is very similar in its stresses but may, in fact, create greater anxiety depending on who you are sharing caregiving with (or if you are), the medical issues you are dealing with in your loved one, and how supportive your work environment is.

Employers always know when their employees have kids, but don't always know when there are elderly relatives that one might be providing care for. It would seem to me that employers who are more in tune to the responsibilities their employees are juggling, and do their best to support them, may indeed have greater productivity and more dedicated employees. 

With the ever-increasing number of seniors on the horizon, employers will be faced with many employees balancing caregiving and work in the coming years. Being prepared for this, no matter what size company you run will make a huge difference for everyone involved.

 Ideally, a larger company that has employee benefits, may want to consider having Elder Care Counselling as part of their EAP offerings. There are many companies offering this type of counselling and referral so it would make sense for these types of services to be integrated into existing benefits. Some companies even offer lectures/workshops for employees struggling with different sorts of issues and if your company does that, do consider including elder care topics in your offerings. If you have a website with employee resources, include some related to eldercare as well. If you are able to do any or all of these things, let your employees know what is available. 

Regardless of a company's size, flexibility may be a necessity moving forward, with contingencies in place for coverage when people need to be away, or the ability to work remotely if necessary. An openness to creating options for those in a caregiving dilemma may make it easier for employees to approach a boss with some ideas for how they can make things work. If they are not worried about getting their work accomplished during traditional work hours, it may decrease their stress and increase productivity in the long run. 

While Ontario does have an unpaid family leave option for up to 8 weeks (https://www.labour.gov.on.ca/english/es/pubs/guide/caregiver.php), of concern to many is the decrease in income for that time period, especially if caregiving is impacting their finances. It would be helpful if employers could consider options for individuals requiring this sort of leave to alleviate some of this concern. Larger employers often offer a maternity 'top up'. Something similar would be helpful for those who have to take a break from work to provide care for an elderly loved one. 

 All of these initiatives will most definitely create a caring work environment, decrease the stress of employees juggling care for others, and in doing so, improve their productivity.