November marked National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the 40 million Americans – more than 61,000 from North Dakota – who help older parents, spouses, and other loved ones live independently at home, where they want to be. The unpaid care they provide – managing medications, cooking meals, driving to appointments, performing complex medical tasks and more – is valued at $860 million in North Dakota alone.
Seven-year-old Zander Wilmes from Bismarck is one of these unsung heroes. He helped care for his great-grandmother who had Alzheimer’s disease.
AARP North Dakota recognized Zander and his great aunt, Katherine Bauman, on November 25 with a Portrait of Care, an artist’s painting of Zander and his great-grandmother – the late Beth Bauman. Randomly selected through AARP’s storytelling initiative I Heart Caregivers, Katherine and Zander are among 53 family caregivers from every state who received a hand-painted portrait. Thousands have shared their stories on the I Heart Caregivers website.
“We want to celebrate family caregivers, spotlight their experiences of hope, love, dedication and perseverance, and elevate their stories – especially during National Family Caregivers Month,” said Josh Askvig, associate state director for advocacy for AARP North Dakota. “This is especially important as we work to support family caregivers through public policy, education, outreach and more.”
Katherine Bauman, age 62, lived with her mother, Beth, who was battling Alzheimer’s disease for over 10 years – providing 24/7 care. During the last seven of these years, Beth’s best caregiver in Katherine’s opinion was Beth’s great-grandson, Zander.
Zander was in daycare with Katherine while she was caring for her mother. As soon as Zander was old enough, he carried snacks and drinks to Beth and she would eat and drink better if he gave her these. They had many meals together, sharing their food. Every day at 3:30 p.m. was ice cream time for Beth and Zander. Even after Zander started school, he came each day after school to spend time with his great-grandmother. When she could no longer read to him, he read to her. Zander learned her routine and could tell others what needed to be done for her and when she had to take her pills. She would take them for him but sometimes refused to take them when others brought them to her. He also knew that she couldn't always remember things and he became her “rememberer,” patiently telling her things over and over. Zander's special bond with his “gramma gramma” meant so much to her.
Beth died earlier this year before Zander’s seventh birthday.
Katherine said, “Although Mom had other family members who helped with her care, it was the youngest caregiver who provided the most important care for her. There’s no way we could have kept her at home that long without Zander.”
We'd like to hear your caregiving story, too. Tell us at I Heart Caregivers.
Supporting Family Caregivers
“Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system, serving a crucial role in helping older North Dakotans and other loved ones remain in their own homes and communities,” Askvig said.
AARP North Dakota is working closely with the North Dakota Legislature’s Interim Human Services Committee, which is conducting a study to determine what kinds of support family caregivers need. The study could lead to legislation in 2017 to ease the burden on those caring for a loved one at home.
“Family caregiving is really an issue that will impact all of us at some point in our lives. Supporting family caregivers should be a priority for all of us,” Askvig said.
If you are a family caregiver or have been one in the past, take this brief survey to help shape legislation supporting North Dakota family caregivers.