Firms Help Workers Care for Parents

When Linda Defrino's 84-year-old mother, Antoinette, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease one year ago, she and her husband decided to move Defrino's mother into their home.

However, she soon found that there was just too much to juggle between work and caring for an elderly parent, and she considered quitting her demanding job as a product manager at Verizon.

"The job itself is high stress, so that stress plus the personal stress which I had never had was growing," said Defrino.

Watch ABC News broadcasts and read USA Today this week for reports in the series, "Role Reversal: Your Aging Parents and You."

But Verizon had a program to help the 20-year employee with elder care. Defrino now shares a job and does some work from home.

"It's relieved a lot of stress, thinking I didn't have enough time in the day or the week. I feel that I can repay her for all the things she's done for me," said Defrino.

A recent Congressional hearing was told 44 million Americans are in the same situation as Linda Defrino. And elder care costs American businesses $30 billion a year in lost productivity.

"I consider elder care the new child care," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. "When you look at what's happening to people my age, they're struggling to take care of their own kids. And at the same time, they want to make sure that their own parents are taken care of, too. What we saw in the '70s with child care, we're seeing in this decade with elder care."

Nearly half of American employers today provide some kind of child-care assistance. Meanwhile, only about 25 percent of companies now help with elder care.

But that number is growing. The help ranges from organized support groups at Toyota America to the option at McGraw Hill to add a parent to employee health care.

Verizon provides backup care in an emergency.

General Mills offers long term care insurance at a discount price. The Minnesota company said it's simply good business.

"When you hire people for the long haul, you know that there's going to be times when their work and life priorities get out of balance," said Scott Weisberg, vice president of benefits and compensation at General Mills. "And in order to ensure that you retain those people for the long haul, you've got to provide this kind of support."

Meg Boehne of Edina, Minn., has been a manager at General Mills for 17 years. Without the company's flexible work schedule, she could not look after parents with health problems who live 500 miles away.

"One reason I will always feel a sense of loyalty to General Mills," said Boehne, "is I never felt as if I was being put in a position where I would have to pick between this job that I highly value and my family."

It is a choice Boehne and her husband, Ted, hope their four children will never have to make.

ABC News' Bob Jamieson and Suzanne Yeo reported this story for "World News."

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