When Elaine and Tommy were married, they vowed “in sickness and health” — a promise that over a decade later would require a lifesaving addition to their matching wedding bands. Elaine shares their story:
In 1998, when Tommy and I got married, we went to Service Merchandise to buy matching gold wedding bands. It was the second marriage for both of us; we were in our 60s. I think we paid $25 for each. Fancy gems weren’t important to us back then; never were. Our gold rings continued to encircle our fingers, but in February of 2012, we added an accessory just a few inches below these symbols of our union. We wore matching black flex bands with 2-inch-wide stainless metal plates. Engraving on the front side of Tommy’s read, "Tom M., Aphasia, Chicago." On the inside, "Call Wife, Elaine S.," and my cellphone number… I ordered our medical alert bracelets after Tommy got lost… He was on his way to see his speech therapist… One hour and 15 minutes after he had left, the home phone rang… Dead air. Finally, garbled words. “Honey, where are you?” I had said. I held on to my desk. “Mmmm,” he got out… “Honey,” I had pleaded. “Please find someone you can hand the phone to…” Finally, a female voice. “Hi, this is Marcello’s.” “Tell my husband to wait there, I’m on my way…” It was 4:30 p.m., rush hour in Chicago, and I was about to drive five miles from our house to the the traffic triangle from hell. But, I was superhuman. At every mile, I thanked God, grateful Tommy was found, grateful he was OK… When the medical alert bands arrived a few days after this episode, I thought Tommy would balk at putting his on because he doesn’t like to cop to his illness. But, this time, no argument, he slipped it on. I only wore my medical alert band when I left the house. But the gold ring hadn’t left my finger -- or Tommy’s since the ecumenical minister who married us in Las Vegas encouraged their mutual exchange.
Across the country, 40 million Americans, like Elaine, care for spouses, parents and other loved ones so they can live independently in their homes and communities. Whether wearing matching identification bracelets, cooking meals, driving to doctors’ appointments or performing complex medical tasks like giving injections — family caregiving can be stressful, exhausting and overwhelming. That’s why AARP is fighting for commonsense solutions to better support family caregivers and their loved ones. Here are some highlights of the legislative steps we’re working on in 2017.
- Workplace flexibility: Family caregiving shouldn’t mean facing the loss of your paycheck or your job. The WORC and ELECT acts, two model bills created by AARP, could help.
- ELECT (Eligible Leave for Employee Caregiving Time) Act allows an employee to use some existing sick leave to care for a family member. This year Illinois became the first state to sign ELECT into law, and other states like New Mexico are considering it.
- WORC (Workplaces Offering Relief for Caregivers) Act allows family caregivers to take unpaid leave to care for a loved one.
- Financial relief for family caregiving: Caring for a loved one can be emotionally, physically and financially draining. This year we’re fighting in states — Arizona, Maine, Mississippi, New Jersey and more — to pass a modest family caregiver tax credit to give some relief for family caregivers who use their own money to care for a loved one.
- Support from hospital to home: The CARE Act, another model bill AARP created, recognizes and supports family caregivers from the moment their loved one enters the hospital to when they return home. It's already passed in 32 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, and we’re continuing our work to pass the CARE Act in Kansas, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota and more.
We’re also fighting for:
- Respite care so family caregivers can get some relief
- Bills to cut through the red tape and allow nurses to have the full authority to heal
- Bills to break down the barriers that prevent use of telehealth — digital information and communication technologies, like computers and mobile devices, that help family caregivers manage their own or their loved one’s health
- And more!
As we approach Valentine’s Day, I hope we all can take an extra moment to tell the family caregivers we know in our lives just how much we care. To everyone caring for someone they love, happy Valentine’s Day!
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.