Care advocates and business leaders gathered in Montgomery County Friday to talk about making a "business case" for flextime, telecommuting and other workplace accommodations for caregivers.

As the country grays, more adult children are balancing work life and commitments to aging parents.

Wendy Campbell, president of the Alzheimer's Association, Delaware Valley Chapter, said it's time to expand the ways that employees are allowed to use their accrued sick time.

"It's OK, to say, 'I'm staying home because my child is sick.' Likewise, when you need to take your mom to a doctor's appointment -- or your father -- you need to be able to be with them and to use your sick time for that," Campbell said.

The panelists said making a social service issue such as support for caregivers "business relevant" could elevate advocacy to a new level because employers begin to invest their resources to make changes.

Jane Hamilton leads Partners on the Path, a small business that encourages companies to adopt caregiver-support programs.

Workers who care for a parent are often valuable employees with experience and expertise, she said.

"They have relationships with your customers, they know how to solve problems that come up," Hamilton said. "You have brain drain if you're going to be cutthroat and send them away -- hiring someone less expensive and younger in their place."

She said getting rid of caregivers also creates turnover in the workplace and the need for costly recruitment and retraining.

The group talked about absenteeism and lost productivity that results when employees are struggling to care for a parent  -- and when workers can't concentrate because they're trying to manage an eldercare crisis at home from the phone at work.

Dan Bates, president of the Lower Bucks County Chamber of Commerce, moderated the discussion. Small businesses need employees to speak up when they need help or flexibility, he said.

It's understandable, he said, that workers hesitate to admit a problem to their boss, but opening the lines of communication can lead to creative solutions.

Bates said his office invested in technology so all his employees can have access to files at home and work remotely. That fix was good for people who need to take care of a parent home. And the change prevented office operations from coming to a halt on snow days.

Elizabeth Walsh, executive director of the Bucks County Workforce Development, said today's employees are a "multigenerational workforce." In Bucks County, over the next 10 years, an additional 20,000 people will be age 55 to 75, she said.

Hamilton said when a business establishes workplaces policies to support caregivers, that move sends a signal to potential new hires: "We understand that there are phases in your life when you have family responsibilities, and so we want to find ways to work with you to help you be productive while you are still caring for your loved one."