En español | This Labor Day, I want to take a moment to recognize the 40 million Americans who perform a great labor of love every day caring for older parents, spouses and other loved ones. While they wouldn’t have it any other way, family caregivers often have a big job. Some are on call 24-7 and often they can’t even take a break.
“One day my mom became ill and my life changed in a moment, I knew I could not leave her alone.”
Iris Vasquez gave up her career at age 59 to take care of her mother, Maximina, who suffers from multiple ailments — any of which could mean life in a nursing home. But Iris was determined to keep her mother at home, where she wanted to be, and out of costly institutional care.
“She gave us life, helped raised our children and now I am only doing for her what she would do for any family member that needed help.”
Each year, family caregivers like Iris spend 37 million hours helping with bathing and dressing, meals, chores, transportation and more — like complex medical tasks including wound care, giving injections and complicated medication management. This unpaid care is valued at about $470 billion a year. But, like Iris, we know this care is invaluable.
“I just do what I have to for my 89-year-old mom to give her comfort and the best quality life… I do it out of love.”
I know firsthand from my time caring for my parents, family caregiving is not without challenges:
- More than half (55 percent) of family caregivers reported feeling overwhelmed by the needs of their loved one.
- Sixty percent of family caregivers also work full or part time, juggling work and caregiving duties.
- Three out of 10 family caregivers report providing direct financial support for a loved one, with some experiencing moderate to high financial strain as a result.
Without a doubt, family caregivers have a big job, but we can help with some basic support, and commonsense solutions, to make their big responsibilities a little bit easier:
- the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act, to support family caregivers when their loved one goes into the hospital and to provide instruction on medical tasks they will need to perform once their loved one returns home
- caregiver employee leave, so family caregivers don’t have to worry about losing pay — or their jobs — when they need to take time off to care for a loved one
- respite care, to give family caregivers a much-needed break
- cutting through red tape to give nurses more authority to help
- making sure caregivers have access to the right resources in the community, such as home care and adult day care
- helping family caregivers navigate financial challenges by making sure power of attorney and adult guardianship laws are consistent and honored from state to state
- and more!
Your stories are the road map to these commonsense solutions. As Iris recently said,
“At times you may feel that you are in this by yourself, but you’re not. There are so many people out there doing the same thing that you’re doing.… Share your experiences because sometimes when you share what you’re going through you never know that it could be a helping hand to the next person.”
To honor and recognize family caregivers all around the country, AARP will randomly select?* one caregiver from each of the 53 U.S. states and territories to receive a Portrait of Care, an artist’s painting of you and your loved one.
Visit aarp.org/iheartcaregivers to share your story and photo today.
Elaine Ryan is the vice president of state advocacy and strategy integration (SASI) for AARP. She leads a team of dedicated legislative staff members who work with AARP state offices to advance advocacy with governors and state legislators, helping people 50-plus attain and maintain their health and financial security.
Follow Elaine on Twitter: @RoamTheDomes.