Arlene and her husband had just celebrated their 50th anniversary when he had his first of two back surgeries, before being diagnosed with cancer and passing five years later. Arlene was the primary caregiver for her husband throughout his illness, doing everything she could to keep her husband at home. While she wouldn’t have had it any other way, she said there were times during her caregiving journey she would have welcomed additional support and instruction.
Arlene is not alone. She is just one of more than 540,000 family caregivers across Iowa who work tirelessly caring for aging parents, spouses, friends, or other loved ones so that they can continue living independently, with dignity, at home—where they want to be.
With the vast majority of older Iowans wanting to remain in their homes and communities as they age, the contribution of family caregivers cannot be overlooked. This silent army is the backbone of elder care in our state, providing unpaid care valued at about $4.1 billion annually. Without the help of family caregivers, too many of our seniors would end up in costly institutions – often paid for by the state, through Medicaid.
In Iowa and across the country, caregiving is now the new norm for family dynamics. If you’re not a caregiver now, you were one in the past, or will likely become one in the future.
According to recent AARP research, the average Iowa family caregiver is a woman between the ages of 55-64, is married and cares for an older woman, usually her mother. She will devote at least 20 hours a week to helping her loved one with tasks like trips to the doctor, bathing and dressing, meal preparation, and chores around the house. Along with being a caregiver, she has a full or part-time job, so caring for her loved ones is done in her “spare time.”
For some family caregivers, their role is more involved as they care for a loved one 24 hours a day, seven days a week, often performing complicated medical tasks like wound care, injections, and medication management—once in the domain of only doctors or nurses.
That’s why AARP Iowa is fighting for The Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act (Senate File 465) to help family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital—and as they return home. The CARE Act will give family caregivers the support they need by, requiring hospitals to record the name of the caregiver when their loved one is admitted, notify the caregiver when their loved one is to be moved or discharged, and instruct the caregiver on the medical tasks they will need to perform at home.
As we try to reign in health care costs, reduce costly hospital re-admissions and trips to the emergency room, arming family caregivers with the information and knowledge they need to safely care for their loved ones at home is paramount.
Bottom line: family caregivers do remarkable things every day to care for their loved ones—but this labor of love is not without its challenges. More than three in 10 family caregivers are very or extremely emotionally stressed. For family caregivers who provide assistance for more than 21 hours a week, sacrifice time away from family and friends, or live with the loved one for whom they are caring their stress, not surprisingly, is increased.
While they would not have it any other way, family caregiving is a big job and caregivers could use a little help. To recognize these unsung heroes, AARP has launched the initiative, “I Heart Caregivers” (aarp.org/iheartcaregivers) so family caregivers across America can share their stories and make their voices heard.
To all of our family caregivers in Iowa, thank you for all that you do—we heart you. And, we urge you to email your state senator to support the CARE Act, SF 465, to help give you the supports you need to do the best job you can for your loved ones.