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ODU School of Nursing Dementia Study to Examine Caregiver Challenges

Across the country, a vast number of people struggle with a situation that goes unnoticed by many around them: juggling work with providing care for a family member suffering from some form of dementia.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 47.5 million people worldwide live with dementia and that number is expected to increase to 75.6 million by 2030. WHO goes further to say that cases of dementia are estimated to more than triple by 2050.

Such caregiving is necessary and critical, but taking care of a family member at home can be an overwhelming task at times - beset with physical, emotional and economic pressures. Old Dominion University's School of Nursing recently received grant funding to explore how caregivers balance individual work commitments with family obligations and examine workplace practices related to those who face the challenges of being a working caregiver.

The $25,500 grant was awarded through the 2015-2016 Commonwealth of Virginia Alzheimer's and Related Diseases Research Fund. The purpose of the fund, which was established by the Virginia General Assembly in 1982, is "to stimulate innovative investigations into Alzheimer's disease and related disorders along a variety of avenues, such as the causes, epidemiology, diagnosis and treatment of the disorder; public policy and financing of care, and the social and psychological impacts of the disease upon the individual, family, and community."

Karen Karlowicz, chair of the School of Nursing, said she works with many faculty and staff members who are dealing with caregiver responsibilities related to family members who may or may not have memory problems.

"My leadership role requires that I create the space for employees to meet their family commitments, while also assuring that the business of the school goes uninterrupted," she said. "However, I am aware that for many unpaid caregivers who also hold a job, an understanding supervisor and flexible workplace policy are not a given."

Dean of the College of Health Sciences Shelley Mishoe said the study will address an issue that desperately needs attention.

"This research will inform policy for employers to incorporate best practices and provide supportive environments," she said. "I commend Dr. Karlowicz, not only for obtaining the grant to conduct this important research, but for being a role model to support faculty who are also dementia caregivers."

Karlowicz and her team plan to conduct their study at ODU and in businesses across Hampton Roads. It's unclear how many employers are aware of Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) policies, recommendations from the Alzheimer's Workplace Alliance (AWA), or the American Association of Retired Persons Respect a Caregiver's Time (ReAct) program.

Karlowicz and her crew plan to identify:

  • Factors that affect work-life balance for dementia caregivers; and
  • Gaps, barriers, and facilitators in the applications of EEOC policy, as well as the AWA and ReACT guidelines.

In doing so, the school will be able to determine how existing dementia caregiver support policy is implemented in the workplace as well as identify the educational needs of dementia caregivers and workplace managers about these policies.

September Sanderlin, the vice president of human resources at ODU, signed a letter of support for Karlowicz's proposal.

"This is an important issue that can have a significant impact on an employee's need for work-life balance," she said. "The outcome of this study will be interesting. I am pleased that the grant was awarded."

Currently, the study team is recruiting working caregivers to take part in focus group discussions. If you are interested in participating, please use on this link to indicate your availability.

Questions regarding this research project may be directed to Karen Karlowicz, at (757) 683-5262 or kkarlowi@odu.edu.

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