by Lacy Fox, WWN Policy Committee Member.
In November, we celebrate National Family Caregivers Month as a way to honor those who support their loved ones affected by illness, injury, or disability. Each day, family caregivers are challenged with not only meeting their own needs but also the needs of loved ones they care for with dignity and respect. Caregiving is a selfless act of love, compassion, and sacrifice.
Sixty-five percent of older adults with long-term care needs rely exclusively on family and friends to provide assistance. Care provided by friends and family often determine whether or not an individual is able to remain at home and out of costly institutions.
Women provide the majority of caregiving to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors. Approximately 66 percent of caregivers are female and, although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50 percent more time providing care than male caregivers. The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman, caring for her 60 year old mother who does not live with her. She is also married and employed.
In Wisconsin, there are about 578,000 family caregivers who provide $7 billion worth of unpaid care. Each week, the average caregiver provides 18 hours of assistance to a loved one. Almost half of these caregivers perform medical or nursing tasks, such as complex medication management and injections. Strengthening our policies to support family caregivers would be a tremendous help to individuals across Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Women’s Network is lucky to have the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, Inc. (GWAAR) as a member organization. GWAAR works tirelessly with aging units at the county and tribal level to enhance the quality of life of older adults and ensure they have the opportunity to thrive. aging units and Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs) are an invaluable resource to caregivers in need of support services. GWAAR recognizes that, for caregivers, taking care of a loved one when they are unable to care for themselves can be difficult, especially if the caregiver doesn’t know where to turn for help.
As a partner with county and tribal aging programs, GWAAR provides up-to-date information, training, and technical support that helps provide information and assistance to caregivers and their families. One such resource is the National Family Caregiver Support program, which is located in every county and tribe in Wisconsin. This program helps caregivers overcome challenges in providing care to their loved one, such as transportation services and respite care. The National Family Caregiver Support program is available to family caregivers (including friends) who care for individuals over 60, or who have Alzheimer’s disease regardless of age.
Additionally, the Wisconsin Association of Area Agencies on Aging (W4A) has created a website, designed specifically for Wisconsin caregivers, to help caregivers navigate different supports and services available to them. The website can be visited at www.wisconsincaregiver.org. For more information about GWAAR, visit their website at www.gwaar.org.
The Wisconsin Women’s Network and its many member organizations advocate daily for policies at the state and federal level that will enhance the wellbeing of women and their families. Many caregivers rely on workplace flexibility and reasonable accommodations in order to provide care to their loved one. Therefore, the Wisconsin Women’s Network supports legislation aimed at providing this flexibility. One such policy is the Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act, which is currently proposed legislation – circulating for co-sponsorship from other state legislators – that has not been formally introduced to the Legislature. Ensuring workers have access to paid leave provides our workers compassion and understanding and promotes Wisconsin’s shared family values. Wisconsinites should not have to choose between taking care of a family member and keeping their job. The Wisconsin Family Medical Leave Insurance Act is designed to help families in a time of need and allows employees to take family leave to care for a family member.
Another bill that has been introduced this legislative session is the Care Act – Senate Bill 19, which will help to make sure caregivers know what their loved one needs after a hospital visit by providing guidance to those who will be caring for them, which will likely prevent return visits to the hospital. Under the bill, if a patient designates a caregiver, the hospital must notify the caregiver of a patients discharge, and prepare the caregiver for aftercare assistance. Simple changes can make a world of difference to ease the strains and challenges caregivers face when tending to the needs of loved ones who’ve fallen ill and this bill would be a step in the right direction to that end.
If you are a family caregiver, it’s important to remember you are not alone. Wisconsin has a strong group of organizations that work tirelessly to provide education, respite care, financial assistance and so much more to Wisconsin caregivers. There are also support groups available that give people a chance to talk and connect with other caregivers who may be dealing with some of the same issues. Remember to take time to care for yourself as it will help you to take better care of your loved one. If you need help finding assistance, please do not hesitate to contact the Wisconsin Women’s Network, we would be happy to connect you to services in the community to help you on your journey as a caregiver. Find our contact information, here.
What are your tips as a family caregiver? Share them in the comments section below!