November marks National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the 42 million Americans, 1.3 million in Massachusetts, who help care for aging parents, spouses and other loved ones so they can remain at home – as opposed to costly institutions. In Massachusetts alone, family caregivers provide unpaid care valued at a staggering $10.6 billion annually.
Today, the average family caregiver is a 49-year-old female, who takes care of a 77-year-old woman – usually her mother. She provides 20 hours a week of assistance to her loved one, although she may be on call around-the-clock.
“When it comes to family dynamics, caregiving is the norm,” says Mike Festa, State Director of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 Commonwealth residents age 50 and older. “If you’re not a caregiver now, you were one in the past, or you’ll likely be one in the future. This silent army of unsung heroes helps their older loved ones to live independently, with dignity, each and every day.”
To honor family caregivers, this month AARP launched a new initiative to spotlight their stories, called “I Heart Caregivers”: aarp.org/iheartcaregivers.
According to AARP, the vast majority of older Americans want to live independently, at home, as they age. And, family caregivers are the ones who step up and provide the bulk of assistance to make this goal a reality, including help with bathing and dressing; meal preparation; managing finances; transportation; grocery shopping, and more.
Festa adds, “Family caregivers are also required to undertake tasks that were once in the domain of only doctors and nurses: complex medication management, wound care, injections. Yet, most receive little or no training for these duties. That’s why AARP Massachusetts will be fighting for a commonsense solution called the Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act during the 2015 state legislative session.”
The CARE Act helps family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home. The bill features three important provisions:
•The name of the family caregiver is recorded when a loved one is admitted into a hospital;
•The family caregiver is notified if the loved one is to be discharged to another facility or back home; and,
•The facility must provide an explanation and live instruction of the medical tasks – such as medication management, injections, wound care, and transfers – that the family caregiver will perform at home.
“Bottom line: Family caregivers could use some support: training, help at home, workplace protections, and more,” Festa concludes. “That’s why AARP will advocate for the CARE Act; for legislation allowing spouses to be paid as caregivers; and to make sure the right resources are available in the community – like home care and adult day health programs – so family caregivers have the strength and energy to carry on.”
Visit aarp.org/iheartcaregivers to find out more about family caregivers in Massachusetts – and share your story.