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Caregivers Part Two: Don't forget to take care of yourself

Many who take care of others neglect their own needs

Ken Thimmesch helps his wife Sharon get up from her bed at their southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home Friday, June 5, 2015
Ken Thimmesch helps his wife Sharon get up from her bed at their southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, home Friday, June 5, 2015. Ken mentions his wedding vows on why he takes care of his physically frail wife. Ken also mentions that Sharon would do it for him if the roles were reversed. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — For many caregivers, the time involved in caring for a loved one often means juggling employment with a whole new list of at-home responsibilities.

According to a 2015 report on caregiving in America from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 6 out of 10 caregivers reported having to make workplace adjustments to accommodate their caregiving role, including reducing hours or taking a leave of absence.

As one of the state’s largest employers, the University of Iowa provides employees acting as caregivers with additional support and resources.

“From an employer standpoint we recognize that our faculty and staff have a lot of responsibilities,” said Nicole Studt, former manager of University of Iowa’s Family Services, whose final day with the UI was June 5.

“It is a time commitment and can be very complex, there can be a lot of challenges with caregiving because the issues can be many.”

Resources available to UI employees include family and medical leave, consultations with Elder Services, workshops or opportunities to take advantage of community resources such as backup adult care.

Studt said it’s important for caregivers to manage the delicate balance between caring for a relative and caring for oneself.

“These services are very important, not only for the care that you’re providing, but for yourself, making sure you’re taking care of yourself,” she said. “Typically the first thing that goes on the back burner is your own care.”

Brian Kaskie, associate professor of health management and policy at the UI College of Public Health, said the resources available for caregivers working at the UI are a good first step. He added that not only could more services be provided, but the UI also could do a better job raising awareness of such offerings.

“Relative to most other universities, we do pretty well. Now could we be doing more? Certainly,” Kaskie said. “The question is, how much is the university getting the word out and how much are people looking for it?”

A 2012 survey of the UI’s roughly 14,800 employees, of which almost 3,250 responded, found that about 25 percent of the respondents identified as caregivers.

The survey found that providing resources for caregivers is not enough. Rather, employers also need to increase awareness of support but also encourage employees to take advantage of such offerings.

The survey also found that caregivers who take advantage of available resources are less likely to incur work interruptions by adjusting work schedules, reducing hours or quitting altogether.

Kaskie said the UI, located in a state with a rapidly growing elderly population, has a chance as an employer and educational institution to establish a better infrastructure of support for its employees.

“As the flagship university in one of the country’s oldest states (in terms of population), we have a chance to set an example for others to follow. What we choose to do or not do sends a message about how we recognize the needs of an ever-increasing older workforce,” he said.

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“It’s a huge opportunity to distinguish ourselves in a leadership position.”

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