Hawai‘i Herald Columnist
More than 48 million Americans, including 154,000 here in Hawai‘i are family caregivers. It is one of the most important jobs we will ever do and one of the most difficult. Family caregivers help their older parents, spouses and other loved ones live independently — managing medications, preparing meals, helping with bathing and dressing and so much more.
They deserve our thanks and our support.
These individuals hold up a broken long-term care system. Hawai‘i’s dedicated family caregivers provide 144 million hours of care every year, adding up to $2.6 billion in unpaid labor per year. The physical, financial and emotional toll on them is great. Many family caregivers work full or part-time at paying jobs, and many cut back their hours or quit their jobs to make sure loved ones get the care they need.
Beatriz, of Hilo, is caring for her partner with dementia.
“I do it out of love,” Beatriz said. But it’s tough. “I’m kind of at a standstill caring for her, and at the same time, my life gets jolted out of whack.”
November is Family Caregivers Month. Family caregivers deserve our recognition, but simply saying thank you is not enough. That’s why AARP is fighting for commonsense solutions to save caregivers time and money and provide more support.
In Congress and in Hawai‘i, AARP is advocating for a tax credit to help cover respite care and other expenses. On average, family caregivers spend about 26 percent of their income – more than $7,000 each year to support loved ones. We’re also pushing for paid family leave so caregivers can continue to work instead of retiring early or leaving the workforce.
“If I had a tax credit that would be wonderful. Every little bit helps. When it feels like there’s nobody around to help you, it’s a very empty feeling,” Beatriz said.
If you’re new to family caregiving, check out AARP’s 10 Tips for Family Caregivers (aarp.org/caregiving/basics/info-2023/how-to-be-a-caregiver.html), which provides advice and resources from experts and fellow caregivers.
Among the most important:
Don’t Go It Alone: Being a family caregiver can be exhausting and intense; look to fellow caregivers to show you the way.
Build a Support Network: Enlist family, friends and community members to assist with caregiving tasks. Don’t be shy about asking for help and accepting assistance.
Make a Budget: Family caregiving expenses can quickly deplete your savings; create a financial plan and stick with it.
Get Paperwork Organized: Organizing medical information and legal documents provides peace of mind.
Know Your Limits: Although it isn’t easy, sometimes being a family caregiver means knowing when it is time to seek professional help to care for your loved one.
For far too long, family caregivers have gone unnoticed by many lawmakers. That’s why AARP is launching I Am A Caregiver – a nationwide movement to support family caregivers and the loved ones they care for. We need your help. Raise your hand and join the fight at aarp.org/iamacaregiver.
Craig Gima is the communications director at AARP Hawai‘i. He is an award-winning multimedia communicator with more than 30 years of experience. A Honolulu native, Gima spent nearly 19 years at the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in a variety of reporting, editing and online roles before joining AARP in 2016. Gima graduated cum laude from the University of Southern California.