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Although many institutions of higher education often house the researchers who study eldercare, few have documented the need for information and services among their estimated 460,000 employees who face the difficult task of effectively balancing work and eldercare responsibilities. Even fewer have established programs to address this need.
Drs. Constance Coogle and Edward Ansello have recently completed an exhaustive survey of VCU employees (N = 11,430) to determine the extent to which they provide care to disabled parents or spouses. A longer, more detailed survey was sent to those who indicated that they were eldercaregivers to measure their perceived "sense of burden", job-related effects of eldercare, and need for eldercare assistance.
Approximately 35% of VCU employees provide some kind of eldercare. The typical eldercaregiving employee at VCU is a 42 year-old, white, married, college-educated female working in a classified position and caring for a mother or mother-in-law. The typical eldercare recipient is a 75 year-old, white, female in fair physical health with occasional memory difficulty and dependent in at least one activity of daily living.
More than one-third of the eldercaregivers experience mild to moderate levels of burden and another 20% experience even greater levels of strain. About half of the respondents felt that their eldercare responsibilities interfered with their work responsibilities to some extent. More than half of the eldercaregiving employees suffer from stress on the job and about half feel exhausted at times. The majority of caregivers leave work early in order to tend to their eldercare duties and more than half miss work altogether. About half say that their work productivity is negatively affected, and more than one-third say that the quality of their work is compromised.
In general, caregiving employees would like information about the availability of community resources, dealing with caregiver stress, choosing long-term care facilities, selecting public or private insurance, and communicating effectively with health or social service professionals. Institutional programs or policies, such as caregiver seminars, resource fairs, and a family care leave policy would also be helpful.
This study documents the pressing need for programs and policies which provide information and services for employees who care for elderly relatives. The need is especially great among those who have the dual responsibility of child care and eldercare, and those who are not married. With the recent creation of the Dependent Care Services office, VCU is beginning to address this problem through the provision of lunchtime seminars, a video discussion series, and the establishment of an Alzheimer's support group. In this effort, VCU serves as an example to other institutions of higher education interested in improving job performance and worker satisfaction by helping their employees more effectively balance their work and eldercare responsibilities.
 The research was supported in part by the Grants-In-Aid Program for Faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University.
Coogle, C. L., & Ansello, E.F. (1992). Elder-caregiving among University Employees: Responsibilities and Needs. Final report to the Committee for the Grants-in-Aid Program for Faculty of Virginia Commonwealth University. Richmond, VA.
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Virginia Center on Aging Publications