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Caring for Washington's Family Caregivers

PHOTO: It's some of the toughest but most rewarding work around. This year, about one-and-a-quarter million family caregivers in Washington will deliver more than $10 billion worth of unpaid care for their aging or ailing relatives. Photo credit: Chris Thomas.
PHOTO: It's some of the toughest but most rewarding work around. This year, about one-and-a-quarter million family caregivers in Washington will deliver more than $10 billion worth of unpaid care for their aging or ailing relatives. Photo credit: Chris Thomas.
November 6, 2014

SEATTLE - November is National Family Caregivers Month, and for more than a million Washingtonians, caring for an ailing parent or spouse is part of their daily life and routine.

To support those who put their jobs, career, other family members, and even their own health aside to provide in-home care to a family member, Washington's Family Caregiver Support Program offers information and help finding local resources and services.

Unfortunately, the program only reaches one percent of those who could make use of its counseling and support groups, training, and respite care.

Bea Rector, who leads the Home and Community Services Division at the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), says it often never occurs to caregivers to contact a local Area Agency on Aging to ask for help.

"They're just doing what you do as a family member, and you're doing the best that you can do," says Rector. "They don't know where to turn. They don't know there's assistance available. In some cases, they're so overwhelmed they're not able to take the time to really figure out where to turn."

Rector says the focus support services specialize in "caring for the caregiver," and are proven to decrease depression and stress.

All this month, AARP is also asking family caregivers to share their stories on a new campaign website called I Heart Caregivers.

Rector says Washington's Family Caregiver Support Program is better funded than many others across the country, but there are waiting lists for services in some areas. The program runs on a $14 annual million combination of state and federal money, and is making a pitch for more funding to Gov. Jay Inslee.

Rector notes Washington families provide care that's worth more than $10 billion per year.

"It's such an important job, and it is a tremendous financial savings to the state for the work these unpaid family caregivers do," she says. "It's work we really need to support as a state."

She adds there are no income guidelines for who can use the Family Caregiver Support Program. AARP says the average family caregiver is a woman near age 50 who works full-time, and provides 20 hours a week of assistance to her relative.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA