As we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, let’s also remember that November is National Family Caregivers Month – a time to recognize and express our appreciation for America’s 40 million family caregivers. They are truly the backbone our care system, helping aging parents, spouses, and other relatives and friends manage chronic conditions and disabilities.
At AARP, supporting family caregivers like Olivia Garcia is one of our top priorities. Here is Olivia’s story in her own words:
My name is Olivia, and I am my mother’s primary caregiver. Her name is Rosalinda, and she is 61 years young! My family and I have been taking care of her for 11 years, and she’s been living with us for about four years now. She was diagnosed with dementia at the young age of 54, then Alzheimer’s at 58. It’s been one hell of a rollercoaster of stress, emotions, questions and exhaustion! But, we love her and know that good we are doing by the quality of care she receives. Thankful to the fullest for our local Agency on Aging that helped us so much during the beginning times of our journey. Mom attends an adult day care during the day so I can continue to work and provide for my young family of five – including mom! Life isn’t easy or fair at times, but your attitude about it makes all the difference. When her moments of clarity come in and she’s full of joy, I know we are doing amazing things for her! God bless all the caregivers and their families!
To help Olivia and the millions of family caregivers across the country, AARP provides information, develops educational programs, and advocates for a range of federal and state legislation.
Our work is informed and driven by a number of important trends:
- The need for family caregivers is growing. America is aging. By 2030, one in four Americans will be over age 50, and by 2050, one out of five will be age 65 and over. People are living longer, managing chronic conditions over an extended period of time, and, more and more, they are staying in their own homes.
- Family caregivers are as diverse as America. We sometimes talk about the “typical” family caregiver . . . a 49 year old woman who spends 24 hours each week caring for her mother. But, this data point masks the broader picture. Nearly one in ten family caregivers are over age 75. One in four are Millennials. Four in ten are male. While there may be a common bond, every caregiver’s situation is different, so there is no one-size-fits all solution to the challenges they face.
- Technology innovations to support caregivers and their loves ones could be transformative – but we’re not there yet. Venture capital firms are pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into companies that provide technology, tools and resources for senior care. And, brand-name companies are rethinking how their products can be used by – and marketed to – seniors and others who require help to stay independent. But, an AARP study found that while 71% of caregivers say they are interested in technology that supports their caregiving tasks, only 7% are using what’s currently available.
- Family caregiving is a workplace issue. A little more than 60% of American’s family caregivers are in the paid workforce. That’s 24 MILLION Americans who are balancing their caregiving responsibilities with jobs – either full or part-time. Employers can do a lot to help. AARP’s research shows that creating a caregiver-friendly workplace can increase productivity and help attract and retain talent. We’ve created a toolkit to help employers support their caregiver employees.
- Family caregiving is no longer simply a personal issue. It is now firmly planted as a BIPARTISAN legislative and political issue. At the state level, the CARE Act – a law that helps family caregivers get information and training to support a loved one who has been in the hospital – is on the books in 39 states and territories that cover the political spectrum. And, here in Washington, AARP is proud to work with Senators and Representatives on both sides of the aisle to promote legislation like the Credit for Caring Act and the RAISE Family Caregivers Act.
In September, the RAISE Family Caregivers Act passed the U.S. Senate by unanimous consent . . . a strong sign that in an age of partisan gridlock, family caregiving is an issue that policymakers of all political stripes can get behind. AARP is continuing to bolster support for the legislation in the U.S. House.
We are hopeful that Congress will pass the bill to create a national strategy that recognizes and supports family caregivers so families like Olivia Garcia’s can get the help they need to make the big responsibilities of caregiving a little bit easier.
Nancy LeaMond, chief advocacy and engagement officer and executive vice president of AARP for community, state and national affairs, 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.