Recently, my husband and I became part of the elder caregiving generation. It was, as it often is, a surprise invitation when my father-in-law was suddenly hospitalized.
Almost instantly, we knew what we needed: someone to tell us what we needed.
The short list of things to figure out:
- His private insurance
- His Medicaid
- Payment for his future caregiving needs
- What those needs would look like
- Would he be able to go home?
- If so, how would we set up his house? Who would we talk to who knows such things?
- How would we find caregivers?
- Could we move him closer to us?
- How does his long-term care insurance work?
- How do we figure out his finances?
- Where would we find help?
Those were the questions we knew to ask. We were clear there was a second list of questions – the ones we didn’t even know we didn’t know. We quickly understood a simple fact: technology alone is not the answer. We needed a person to talk to. It’s why platform-enabled benefits are not enough.
Don’t get me wrong – search platforms play an important part. Who among us hasn’t needed to find household help or a sitter when we had time to plan ahead? But last-minute requires a completely different kind of assistance. And last-minute when the parameters aren’t clear (such as, when you are suddenly thrown into the job of elder caregiver – as many of us are) human contact is essential.
Estimates say there are millions of caregivers (42 million, actually) looking out for parents and other adult relatives. A recent study shows ignoring them is costly. “Companies don’t realize that there are material returns associated with helping these workers,” Joseph B. Fuller, author of a new study (“How Employers Can Cut Costs and Boost Productivity by Helping Employees Manage Caregiving Needs”), told Harvard Business Review recently. “If I told an executive, ‘You could reduce your turnover of key personnel by 3 percent,’ they would say, ‘Where do I sign?’”
But just as important as that you offer something, is what you offer. One could spend hours (days, weeks, months) searching the web trying to figure this out solo. But the physical act of caregiving and sitting in ICUs already takes a lot of time. Human help from an expert who understands this stuff means we’re not flailing around helplessly. It also means we’re not doing additional heavy lifting (and worrying) when we’re at work.
So far, with the help of two brothers and a lot of kind nurses, my husband and I have begun to figure this out from a distance.
But we know this is the beginning of a long adventure. And at every step of the way when we have questions, we’re not going to be looking to a computer for answers. But to a human.