At kitchen tables across America, real families are confronting the same question: How will we care for Mom and Dad (or another loved one) if something happens and they can’t take care of themselves?
When my mother’s health declined, I served as her best friend, her adviser, her house manager and her hospital Sherpa. I am not alone.
Every family caregiver has a personal story to tell — which is why caregiving is one of those rare issues that cross geographic and political lines. This isn’t a Democratic issue. It’s not a Republican issue. It’s a family issue. It’s one shared by more than 42 million Americans who are helping their older loved ones live independently at home, where they want to be.
In some ways, caregiving is a wonderful gift.
It affords us the opportunity to:
- Give back to the ones who gave so much to us.
- Spend quality time with the people we love.
- Step back and put things in perspective.
But it also can be a difficult and trying time — and it can be isolating.
The level and kind of help family caregivers provide vary greatly, and depend on the circumstances:
- Some provide care from a distance, while others are just a short drive away.
- Some support aging parents who have physical disabilities, while others are also managing through the challenges that come with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.
- Some perform complex medical tasks that were once handled only by trained medical personnel.
- Some step in to help mom and dad manage their finances.
- And some caregivers do it all.
Today, the average family caregiver is a 49-year-old working woman who cares for her mother. She provides 20 hours of care per week. Meanwhile, other family caregivers help their loved ones around the clock, and many can’t even take a break. In total, America’s family caregivers provide an estimated $450 billion in unpaid care annually.
Beyond the kitchen table, into legislative chambers
That’s why AARP is fighting to help this silent army of Americans who lovingly care for their parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and friends. We’ve seen real progress in states across the country as this personal issue becomes a political issue — as we move the conversation beyond kitchen tables and into legislative chambers.
We couldn’t do this work without state legislators, governors and other elected officials—especially those who are at the vanguard of the movement:
- Who write, support and move legislation.
- Who work with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get things done.
- Who come together to pass those critical votes that turn bills into law.
To recognize the state elected officials who were integral to the passage of key caregiving legislation in 2014, last night at the National Conference of State Legislatures Forum, I introduced our inaugural, bipartisan class of Capitol Caregivers. This class includes 46 state legislators and three governors from 19 states who helped family caregivers by:
- Passing the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act.
- Creating caregiving task forces.
- Expanding nurses’ ability to take care of their patients.
- Providing more workplace flexibility.
- Making adult guardianship and power-of-attorney laws more uniform.
The 2014 Capitol Caregivers are:
- State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, California
- Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, California
- Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, California
- Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut
- State Sen. Terry B. Gerratana, Connecticut
- State Rep. Theresa W. Conroy, Connecticut
- State Rep. Jason Perillo, Connecticut
- State Rep. Valerie J. Longhurst, Delaware
- State Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland, Hawaii
- State Sen. Rosalyn Baker, Hawaii
- State Sen. Vaneta Becker, Indiana
- State Sen. Ed Charbonneau, Indiana
- State Rep. Edward Clere, Indiana
- State Sen. Patricia Miller, Indiana
- State Sen. Robert Hogg, Iowa
- State Rep. Chip Baltimore, Iowa
- State Sen. Morgan McGarvey, Kentucky
- State Sen. Reginald Thomas, Kentucky
- State Rep. Joni L. Jenkins, Kentucky
- State Rep. Tommy Thompson, Kentucky
- State Rep. Robert A. Johnson, Louisiana
- State Sen. Gale D. Candaras, Massachusetts
- State Rep. Anne M. Gobi, Massachusetts
- State Rep. Christopher M. Markey, Massachusetts
- State Rep. James O’Day, Massachusetts
- State Sen. Sandra L. Pappas, Minnesota
- State Sen. Kathy Sheran, Minnesota
- State Rep. Carly Melin, Minnesota
- State Rep. Dan Schoen, Minnesota
- State Sen. Terry C. Burton, Mississippi
- State Sen. Briggs Hopson, Mississippi
- State Rep. Mark Baker, Mississippi
- State Rep. Bobby Moak, Mississippi
- State Sen. Kate Bolz, Nebraska
- State Sen. Sue Crawford, Nebraska
- State Sen. Robert W. Singer, New Jersey
- State Sen. Joseph F. Vitale, New Jersey
- Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto, New Jersey
- Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz, New Jersey
- State Sen. Michael Padilla, New Mexico
- State Rep. Tomás Salazar, New Mexico
- Gov. John Kasich, Ohio
- Gov. Mary Fallin, Oklahoma
- State Sen. Brian A. Crain, Oklahoma
- State Rep. Harold Wright, Oklahoma
- State Sen. Thomas Alexander, South Carolina
- State Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, Utah
- State Sen. Brian Shiozawa, Utah
- Del. Barbara Evans Fleischauer, West Virginia
More work to do
In 2015, AARP will continue to press for commonsense solutions to help family caregivers and their loved ones: more support, help at home, training and more.
I invite you to help us fight for you and your loved ones. Learn more at aarp.org/iheartcaregivers
Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP’s State and National Group, leads government relations, advocacy and public education for AARP’s social change agenda. LeaMond also has responsibility for AARP’s state operation, which includes offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
You can follow her on Twitter @NancyLeaMond .
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