Throughout the nation’s senior living communities, professional caregivers strive to deliver quality, compassionate care. But they’re often at risk of burnout. Physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion can erode their effectiveness in caring not only for residents but also for themselves.
Statistics tell the story of a weary workforce. Each year, an estimated 45 percent of senior care employees leave the industry.
“Being a professional caregiver takes a special heart but can lead to ‘compassion fatigue,’” says Stephen Chee, director of employee wellness at Lifetime Wellness. His company provides person-centered wellness, life enrichment, and recreational programming to independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and rehabilitation, and memory care facilities.
“Often, caregivers focus so intently on helping others that they neglect themselves. Sleep suffers, diet and exercise are compromised, and even doctor appointments are missed – all of which can contribute to elevated stress, weakened immune systems, and unhealthy employees.”
Chee learned firsthand about compassion fatigue while serving as an at-home caregiver for his elderly father. His experience led to a trailblazing career, one devoted exclusively to caregiver wellness needs.
In what’s been called the “senior tsunami,” the aging population is surging. An estimated 10,000 individuals turn 65 every day. By 2030, 20 percent of the population – just over 70 million Americans – will be 65 years and older. Also by that year, the number of seniors between the ages of 80 and 84 will grow from about six million today to 10.5 million, an increase of 75 percent. Over the next decade, 1.2 million new employees will be required to meet the explosive demand for senior care.
“Senior living employers will need to go the extra mile in ensuring employees are nurtured and their needs are met,” Chee says. “Providing employee wellness services can help attract – and keep – high-quality staff.”
Lifetime Wellness, for example, offers its partner communities a Caregiver Wellness Model. The program includes an onsite array of employee wellness services, fitness activities, and health care guidance.
Screening for health
“Senior living staff are often time constrained,” Chee notes. “Some are single parents; some work double shifts or have a second job. They may feel they have no time to see a doctor. Our program gives employees convenient access to onsite health screening – tests that can detect health problems before symptoms appear.”
Screening includes such services as a blood cholesterol panel, blood glucose test, blood pressure reading, and body composition evaluation. Results help employees to “know their numbers,” understand risk factors, and take charge of their health.
“Exercise is the foundation for staying healthy,” Chee says. “It’s a lot like getting our cars regularly serviced. Our bodies are our vehicles for life. We need to keep them well conditioned so they don’t break down on us.”
The Lifetime Wellness program promotes employee participation in physical activity groups to improve and maintain cardiovascular endurance, as well as balance, flexibility, and muscle strength. Certified professional fitness trainers offer resistance and strength training, cardiac exercises, core work, and yoga.
“With all the demands of senior care, employees are easily stressed, and stress has many negative effects on health,” Chee notes. “More and more companies are offering massage therapy to deliver relief, relaxation, and rejuvenation – and in turn improve morale and productivity.”
The Lifetime Wellness program uses chair massages that focus on the back, shoulders, neck, and arms. Provided by certified massage therapists, the 15-minute sessions help reduce stiffness and muscle tension, lower blood pressure, and improve circulation.
Staying in step
Lifetime Wellness offers guidance on a variety of health topics, from nutrition and exercise to stress reduction. “Education is woven into every aspect of our employee wellness program,” Chee says. “We teach staff how to stay fit, develop coping skills, and choose healthy behaviors.”
Employees can stay in step with their personal health progress through a caregiver wellness portal, an online hub that serves as the single point of access for employee health and wellness information. They can view their health risk assessment and wellness scores, health screen results, and body measurements, as well as receive health and wellness tips.
“Caregivers are the ‘heart and soul’ of thriving senior communities,” Chee says. “Healthy, happy, and fully engaged employees can bring a host of dividends, from lower costs to higher resident satisfaction and improved health outcomes. In an increasingly competitive labor market, senior care providers who offer a wellness-focused culture for their employees will be well-positioned for long-term success.”