Family Caregivers: More Than Half Million in Wisconsin
MADISON, Wis. – Underappreciated and undertrained is how some people refer to family caregivers, who make personal sacrifices every day for little or no compensation to provide care for a loved one.
November is National Family Caregivers Month, and Helen Marks Dicks, state advocacy director of AARP Wisconsin, calls family caregivers an "invisible army."
"I don't think people realize that there is really no formal long-term care system, and that all these people are doing an incredible amount of work without any support or recognition," she points out.
Caregivers help with daily tasks such as giving baths, dispensing medications, preparing meals, providing transportation and an array of other activities.
Dicks says the number of family caregivers in Wisconsin surprises most people.
"There's 578,000 caregivers that provide $7 billion worth of care here in Wisconsin,” she says. “And by family caregiver I mean not only relatives, but friends, neighbors and the people who are helpful from your community."
Caregivers do this while keeping up with their own jobs, running their households and trying to make ends meet.
According to Dicks, many people don't realize how much is being asked of family caregivers, particularly when a loved one is discharged from a hospital. She says caregiving "creeps up on you."
"You start out driving and doing the grocery shopping and going to medical appointments, and it actually keeps growing more and more complex so that people are doing complex medical procedures," she explains.
Dicks says often, caregivers get little or no training on how to do these necessary tasks when a loved one is sent home from the hospital. There are plenty of tips to help caregivers at www.aarp.org/caregiving.
Dicks says AARP is working with state legislators to provide greater support for family caregivers.
"We want the Legislature to look at things like a caregiver tax credit because these caregivers provide a lot of financial support to people,” she says. “And we want to take a look at what the employers can do to support their workers, many of whom are involved in caregiving."
Among the things Dicks thinks are important are having hospital staff show caregivers how to perform follow-up tasks such as managing medications and dressing wounds.