By Evelin De La Rosa/ AARP
One in six Americans who have a full-time job provides unpaid care to a family member or friend. That equates to about 2.9 billion hours of unpaid family care. Family and friends are the backbones of America’s care system, providing the bulk of care for older people in the U.S. as they strive to live independently.
Being a caregiver can be a challenge on top of other responsibilities like having a full–time job, kids, and school. AARP provides resources and tools to help make your caregiving journey more manageable. Eddie Orum, a 65-year-old adjunct professor at the University of Houston-Downtown and AARP Houston volunteer, knows the great responsibility of being a family caregiver.
“Eddie is passionate about caregiving. He has first-hand experience juggling both caregiving and working full-time. He serves as an advocate for companies creating a caregiver friendly culture,” said Rosalinda Martinez, Associate Director of Outreach and Advocacy for AARP Houston.
Orum currently cares for his 87-year-old aunt, who has cognitive impairment issues. At the start of his journey, he said he faced problems becoming his aunt’s official caregiver.
“Being her nephew, there were some issues I faced to have her move into my home. I had to go through a certain process with legal issues and adult protective issues. It was more than caregiving; it was all the resources I had to get in order to care for my aunt,” said Orum.
About half of African American caregivers feel they have no choice in taking on this role. The majority find a sense of purpose or meaning in this role. When it comes to family dynamics, family caregiving is now the norm. If you aren’t a caregiver now, chances are you will be one in the future. Throughout Orum’s life, caregiving was always around him.
“I come from a caregiving culture. Once I became a caregiver, it was still lifechanging,” said Orum. “I find what I do now rewarding because my aunt was always important to me. It also gives me a chance to give back to my family,” said Orum.
Many organizations have policies and programs that support working caregivers and promote a balance of work and life. Orum’s coordinator at The University of Houston-Downtown is aware of his responsibility. Many employee caregivers do not have this advantage.
AARP encourages employers to be mindful of this as employees struggle to balance work and caregiving demands, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Failure to support employee caregivers can cost employers up to $3,000 per working caregiver. Higher health care costs, productivity losses, more absenteeism and presenteeism, and ultimately, departing workers—all may be consequences as employees struggle to balance work and caregiving demands.
“My coordinator in my department is well aware and very supportive of me being a caregiver. In return, it causes me to be very loyal to the organization. The wellness center at the university also has a caregiving culture organization. From this group, I’ve met people who have had the same experience as me. Due to this organization on campus, it has also given me the chance to give back since they’ve assisted me,” said Orum.
Orum presents virtual caregiving workshops and works with other elder care organizations. Now that we live in a digital world, it is easier for him to share his experience and advice with other caregivers around the state.
“Eddie’s experience in being a working caregiver is essential to telling the story of the challenges faced by the more than 3.4 million caregivers in the state of Texas. He can share his journey and advice on how he has benefited from the AARP Prepare to Care Guide and countless resources,” said Martinez.
On average, one in five employees provide care for an aging, ill, or disabled loved one. During the current health crisis, this number will inevitably increase. According to AARP’s 38 million members, working family caregivers worry about reducing the risk of COVID-19 exposure to themselves and their family and friends.
“With COVID-19, it is my job to protect my aunt as much as I can. I must make sure she understands that this virus spreads through human contact. She watches the news and understands the pandemic and that she is at risk because of her age,” said Orum. “There are times when she is afraid, so I must deal with her emotions. Her health and making sure she understands the risks is what’s important.”
Caregiving can be challenging and unexpected, but there are ways to get help to manage this responsibility. AAPR offers resources and tools on family and employee caregiving to help balance your life. You can find these resources at aarp.org/caregiving.
With Orum’s caregiving experience, he says, “You must take care of yourself, have a team that can help so that you won’t do it all on your own, and educate yourself.”