Jeanne Schultz Afuvai became a family caregiver when her husband suffered a stroke that led to heart and kidney problems and left him unable to swallow.

For nearly 10 years he was in and out of the hospital and each time it was stressful. Even after her husband left the hospital, she had to perform the medical tasks needed after discharge.

“It’s an emotional and confusing time, especially when your loved one is being discharged and it ends up being a complex medical case with several things wrong. It’s very difficult to take it all in.” Schultz Afuvai said. “Not only did I have to learn how to use a feeding tube, but I had to watch how much water I needed to give him because of his kidney and heart problems, and learn about the effects of his medication.”

AARP Hawaii helped get the CARE (Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable) Act passed to help caregivers like Jeanne. The Act becomes law on July 1. It gives caregivers and patients three rights when a loved one is admitted to the hospital and discharged.

1) The patient can designate a family caregiver on their medical record.

2) The hospital must notify the family caregiver before the patient’s discharge or transfer to another facility.

3) The hospital must offer you instruction on the medical tasks you will need to perform at home after the patient is discharged.

You can get a free wallet card with your rights as a caregiver by calling 866-295-7282 or going to http://action.aarp.org/careHI . Keep the card in your wallet next to your insurance information so that you’ll know your rights in an emergency.

The 154,000 family caregivers in Hawaii provide an estimated 144 million hours of care – worth an estimated $2.1 billion to parents, spouses, children and other adult loved ones.

There are two pieces of legislation before Congress to help caregivers. The Credit for Caregiving Act would offer a federal tax credit of $3,000 to family caregivers to help offset their costs. AARP also supports the RAISE (Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage) Family Caregivers Act, which would create an advisory council to recommend a national strategy to recognize and support family caregivers.

Education and training also helps. AARP Hawaii put on a free workshop for caregivers in Honolulu on June 24th in Honolulu with Catholic Charities at their facility on Keeaumoku and Nehoa streets.

Other caregiving workshops are scheduled in Hilo on July 8 at the Church of the Holy Cross and in Kahului on July 15 at Maui Community College.  In addition, the annual Aging in Place conference takes place on Aug. 19 at the Ala Moana hotel. Go to aarp.org/hi for details and to register for the workshops and conferences.

Caregivers are unsung heroes, who sacrifice selflessly to help others, and we should do what we can to support them.

This post was originally published in The Hawaii Herald.

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