By January 31, 2013 Read More →

Working from home and an ageing population

How do you combine working from home with care for the elderly?

Work from Home Wisdom - working from home and an ageing populationI’m constantly seeing articles in the press about how much longer we’re living in the first world. Only last week I read that almost half of the girls born now are expected to live until they’re 100. But what effect is that going to have on all our lives, particularly those of us who are working from home?

Apart from the fact that you’ll probably end up working longer than your parents did, you’re also more likely to have to take a very active role in their lives for far longer than we’ve been used to.

And it’s likely that the bulk of this care will fall to you if you’re working from home, because you have control of your working day and are able to carry out personal business during office hours. So it could be administrative jobs like taking over the paying of your parents’ bills, popping in and checking up on them, or actual physical care.

Your siblings with full-time jobs are going to be affected too, and may find their annual leave being whittled away by dealing with emergencies, but the day-to-day stuff naturally lands in a home worker’s lap.

I’ve recently acquired Power of Attorney to act for my parents in their financial affairs, and I’ve been spending a lot of time during my working day attempting to take control of their bank accounts and arrange for their bills and other paperwork to come direct to me.

I say attempting because I’ve spent hours going round in circles, battling with the inefficient ‘system’ of their bank. Individual staff are friendly and helpful, but mistakes have been made and I’ve not been getting all the information when I need it, so that a vital part of the process is missing, leaving me angry and frustrated.

I don’t have children so I can’t compare the experience of looking after old people to juggling working from home with childcare, but I imagine they are very different. Friends with elderly parents talk of the constant worry in the back of their minds about falls. And then there’s the concern about that forgetfulness – is it just a natural sign of age or a symptom of something much more sinister going on?

Bringing up children means you are helping them learn to take on more and more, and no matter what problems occur there’s always the joy of witnessing your offspring growing and developing their personality.

I don’t want to be brutal, but at the other end of the spectrum after a certain point there are only two alternatives – death or decline. If you’ve always had a close relationship with your parent, it’s heartbreaking to see them deteriorate. If you haven’t, it’s hard to provide care and attention if you feel they didn’t provide it for you as a child.

As for home workers with parents who do have dementia, it can be a nightmare trying to get them the support they need, convincing healthcare workers you can’t do it all yourself, coping with the guilt that you can’t, and handling the frustration of dealing with a parent displaying irrational and trying behaviour.

It’s not just a matter of doing the shopping or paying a bill, the process sucks up much more energy – of all kinds – than the routine jobs themselves. It seems that part of your mind is always ticking over in the background with ‘what if’ scenarios, no matter how positive you try to be.

I’ve been in two minds whether writing this up would reflect badly on my professionalism, and was afraid that people would think I’m not on top of things. But I decided to do it anyway because lately I seem to be apologising all the time for not responding as quickly as usual.

No doubt when the initial setting-up period is over far less time will be needed and I’ll be able to incorporate the admin into working from home in the same way as any other responsibility. For the time being let’s just say it’s an interesting lesson in priorities :-/

But if we’re going to be able to cope with this huge shift in how we live, there needs to be massive change in the institutions – the NHS, the banks, the utility companies – that reflects it. Currently far too much is expected of the individual to bear the burden of care, find their own way through the maze to get help, and figure out the legal complexities of acting for a person no longer able to do it for themselves.

This is new to me and I’d welcome any thoughts. Do you look after an elderly parent in any way? How do you fit it around working from home? How do you see the future if so many more of us are going to live to 100?

Posted in: Family

10 Comments on "Working from home and an ageing population"

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  1. Melanie says:

    I feel frustrated for you reading this Judy. I think a major difference is that as a home worker or self employed business owner the responsibility for the business always lands on your shoulders. If you worked for an employer you would request time out as and when required. But I know how I feel easily swamped when my personal life needs more attention. I think it is managing peoples expectations and being kind to yourself too, is that the answer we all need to follow? You and your parents have to come first. I hope things start to get easier and you get the support you need to help care for them going forward

    • Judy says:

      Thanks, Melanie, I think anyone with elderly parents will agree that dealing with their needs takes much more emotional energy than running a business, even if it’s a very busy or stressful one. It’s that aspect that is so depleting and I have to learn to switch from one mode to another. It really helps to be able to talk about it, either face-to-face or online, so thanks for your empathy 🙂

  2. Ali Davies says:

    You are not being unprofessional at all Judy – just keeping it real. Sending lots of good wishes to you at this cahllenging time.

    • Judy says:

      That’s nice of you, Ali, thank you. And I believe you are entering a challenging time in a totally different way – looking forward to hearing all about your new life 🙂

  3. I have a close family member in just this situation. It’s a lot more common than it appears.

    • Judy says:

      It is, Rosie. I had so many people in mind when I was writing the post – friends, relatives, neighbours – and I’ve heard from more since it was published. It’s a big challenge for society and I hope we can come up with some real solutions soon.

  4. I totally agree, there should be an easier way for carers of the elderly to assume responsibility for their affairs, but I also recognise that making it easier for us will also make it easier for the criminal element to defraud the elderly. It is a delicate balance. I had to take over my father’s affairs when he wasn’t able to and he was grateful for the support. He wasn’t suffering from Dementia which I know makes things 10 x worse on an emotional level. Having siblings who live far away, and in my case, abroad and having to justify to them the actions you’re taking turns up the volume on the ‘stress’ knob considerably too. I’m also very hot on admin (I do it for a living too) and I often wondered how people who aren’t so hot at it manage to cope. Looking back on my experience it was relatively brief as my father died shortly after going into a care home. So although I welcome easier routes to being able to deal with the financial and administrative affairs of an elderly parent, I also recognise that the controls and safety measures are there to protect us all but they do need a good tweak eh?

    • Judy says:

      Thanks for your comment, Sarah. I’m fortunate in that my sister and I see things in a very similar way while using our time and personalities differently to keep it covered as much as possible.
      I too wonder how people not so used to dealing with admin manage to cope. I’d like to see banks etc consulting customers on how to redesign services to make them as straightforward as possible. Maybe I’m living in a dream world :-/

  5. Rachel says:

    I truly sympathise with your situation. However, I actually find working for myself means I can juggle my workload with the requirements of my family much more easily than if I was working for someone and getting their permission to deal with stuff. The similarities between childcare and elderly care is that you have to set boundaries and know your limitations. And if you have not had to do that with childcare, it can be more difficult, but it is essential in order to manage your life. Set aside a period of time each day or each week to deal with the problems. The problems with old age is something we are having to grapple with. Our parents were told they would be taken care of from cradle to grave. We now know this is not true and we will have to prepare accordingly. Actually the more we talk about the difficulties we face, the better, because the more we are able to come up with solutions and not feel so guilty. Well done for raising this topic and I hope you are able to generate a lot of interest and ideas

    • Judy says:

      Thank, Rachel, you’re right, of course. I’m glad to say I’m now getting to grips with setting aside time apart from my business. Now some of the bank problems have been ironed out it’s become a lot less stressful and distracting.
      It certainly helps to talk about it. I’ve had lots of tweets and emails in response to the post and they’ve all made me feel much better. As for ideas, those are thin on the ground at present, but who knows what may come out of discussion?