By Jill Gambon
Social worker Jacqueline McLean has been a caregiver for her parents and spouse. She knows the hardships people face when they care for loved ones.
She has experienced the stress of juggling work and other family duties and has seen the emotional and financial toll that caregiving can exact.
“There’s a lack of understanding and a lack of support services,” said McLean, 55, an AARP volunteer from Shrewsbury.
For her, helping clients learn about available resources is a priority. One of the first things she offers them is “Prepare to Care,” a free AARP planning guide for families, available in print by mail or as a downloadable version at aarp.org/caregiving.
The website offers a variety of resources and tips on hiring a home health aide and strategies for avoiding fatigue and burnout.
She also hands them AARP’s Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act wallet card, with information about the state law that allows hospital patients to designate a family caregiver on their medical records.
Hospitals are required to keep the caregiver up to date on the patient’s discharge plans and to provide instructions about medications, wound care or other treatment needed at home.
“Discharge plans are important for a family to know about,” McLean said, especially when a caregiver lives or works far from the rehabilitation or other facility where the family member is being sent.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, which the Caregiver Action Network established to raise awareness about important issues.
Tips on finances
As part of that effort, AARP Massachusetts is holding events around the state to address caregivers’ concerns and financial security. Conversations on Caregiving and Retirement Security will be held Thursday, Nov. 7, in West Springfield, and Tuesday, Nov. 12, in Fall River.
Both hour-long sessions begin at noon. Go to aarp.org/ma or call 866-448-3621 for details.
Nationwide, AARP is offering $25 gift cards this month to family caregivers who share their story at aarp.org/iheartcaregivers. The gift card can help with gas, food or other expenses related to their duties.
AARP Massachusetts is also backing proposed state legislation that would give financial relief to caregivers.
Bills sponsored by Rep. David Rogers (D-Cambridge) and Sen. Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) would provide family caregivers with a state-income-tax credit of up to $1,500 to help cover approved expenses.
Costs eligible for the tax credit would include improvements to make a home accessible and safe, the hiring of health aides or personal-care attendants, the purchase or lease of necessary equipment, and the cost of transportation.
More than half of the state’s 844,000 caregivers use their own money to tend to their loved ones, spending an average of $7,000 in 2016, according to Mike Festa, state director of AARP Massachusetts.
“A family caregiver tax credit is one way to help address these financial burdens and ensure that caregivers are able to keep their loved ones living in their homes and communities,” Festa told a state legislative committee earlier this year.
Jill Gambon is a writer living in West Newbury.
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