November is National Caregivers Month, a good time to remember that caregiving affects us all in deeply personal ways. In the words of former First Lady Rosalynn Carter: “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers."
The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old female taking care of an older woman, usually her mother, for a period of nearly five years. 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 one 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 — the kind of assistance once in the domain of only doctors or nurses.
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. 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, that stress is increased.
One study by the Center for Secure Retirement found that nearly 9 in 10 middle-income people in midlife said family caregiving was harder than they anticipated, necessitating more emotional strength, patience, and time than expected.
The vast majority of older Texans want to remain in their homes as they age, and family caregivers make that possible. Without this help, too many older Texans would end up in costly institutions – often paid for through Medicaid.
With more than 3.35 million unpaid family caregivers in Texas providing an estimated 3.2 billion hours of care each year, this silent army is the backbone of elder care in our state, providing unpaid care valued at approximately $35 billion annually. The value provided by these unpaid family caregivers is more than the entire Texas Medicaid program, federal and state spending combined. Texas can’t afford for these caregivers to stop providing such valuable assistance.
This is a big job and caregivers could use a little help. That’s why AARP is working for common sense solutions like increasing funding for respite care, which allows family caregivers to take a hard-earned break and know that their loved one is being cared for.
Providing unpaid family caregivers with respite care means they can go to a doctor’s appointment, the grocery store, or just enjoy a few minutes when they are not on call, a cost-effective way to help them manage stress and continue to support their loved one.
One way Texas caregivers can access respite care is through the state’s Aging and Disability Resource centers. Funds from these centers provide caregivers with a break, help them develop skills and manage stress.
During next year’s legislative session, AARP will fight to increase funding for the Lifespan Respite Caregiver Program so that more family caregivers can get the break they need. Funding respite care is a cost-effective way to support unpaid family caregivers who provide essential care to their loved ones, keeping them out of costly institutions.
This November and each day, AARP will continue to represent the millions of family caregivers across Texas who pour their hearts into helping their older loved ones stay at home — where they want to be. A little bit of assistance goes a long way to help caregivers keep doing what they do. Funding respite care is both an act of human compassion and a smart way to safeguard our state’s finances.
Bob Jackson is the director of AARP Texas.