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Caregiving to Older Workers

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It may surprise you to learn that as many as one in five caregivers are lending their help to an older adult who is still working a nine-to-five job.  A lot of my writing has been about what we sometimes call the old-old, that is individuals who are advanced significantly above our traditional cut-off of 65 years of age defining someone as old.  But there has been a steady advance over the past two to three decades in the portion of the labor force that is 65 years of age or older.  In 1985, fewer than one in nine workers was over 65, but that figure has increased to almost one in five workers now who is over 65 years of age.

So much for the talk about taking care of a frail, elderly parent.  Yet, older workers can benefit every bit as much from a caregiver’s help as someone who fits the more classic picture we have of taking food to an elderly shut-in.  As a caregiver, encourage the following adaptations to the workplace:

  1. At least every two hours take a short break to stretch and flex the muscles.  Muscle flexibility is the main predictor of on-the-job injuries for any worker, and agility or flexibility begin to erode dramatically for

    workers as they age.  When the muscles are tighter in an older worker, it can exaggerate the high blood pressure they may already have because muscle pressure restricts blood flow.  Failure to stretch regularly also can lead to repetitive stress injuries like carpal tunnel syndrome, rotator cuff tears or

    elbow or knee inflammation.

  2. Strengthen the core.  I am not talking about grandpa making six-pack abs, but trunk and core strength all around the waist from front to back will minimize the risk of low back injuries, hernias, etc.  Developing a strong core also is key to postural steadiness and avoiding falls.
  3. Use new gripping methods to compensate for less nimble hands and fingers.  Grip-assistive devices are important to more than opening a jar of pickles.  Larger handles for older workers’ tools, handles instead of knobs, etc. can be very helpful.
  4. Hydrate often and in quantity.  Older bodies tend to have lower fluid content than younger bodies.  The rule of thumb is to consume as many ounces of fluid as half their body weight (160 pounds = 80 ounces).  This is all the more critical if an older worker is exposed to extremes in temperature on the job or if they are on diuretic medications for hypertension.
  5. Have regular vision checks.  More than just visual acuity changes with advancing age.  Cataracts, dry eye and age-related macular degeneration are far more common among those over age 65 than younger workers.
  6. Recognize that all of the above are exaggerated by pre-existing conditions.  If your older parent/worker already is obese, diabetic, hypothyroid or suffers from hypertension, etc., these conditions may amplify the vulnerability he or she may have.

    Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to Charlotte Bishop.

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