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A Special Thank You for ND's Family Caregivers

A fast-growing aging population will greatly increase demand for caregivers in the years to come. (Adobe Stock)
A fast-growing aging population will greatly increase demand for caregivers in the years to come. (Adobe Stock)
November 27, 2019

FARGO, N.D. – As North Dakotans gather to celebrate Thanksgiving, there are some who could use a little extra gratitude.

About 68,000 North Dakotans are family caregivers, including Mary Beth Simmer of Fargo. She quit her job to provide care for her sister, who has passed away, but Simmer knows well that caregiving truly is a labor of love - and also a major challenge.

"Many caregivers have loved ones who absolutely need somebody there to help them 24/7 and they can't be left alone," she said. "You can get very depressed: 'I can't do this, this is too much, I need a break.' "

November is National Family Caregivers Month, and Josh Askvig, state director of AARP North Dakota, said a new report shows that caregivers in the state provide about 57 million hours of care each year free of charge - with an economic value of $980 million.

"It really goes to show that those uncompensated caregivers are that backbone of the long-term care continuum," he said.

Nationally, the report said, 41 million family caregivers provide care totaling $470 billion a year. The report also revealed the complex responsibilities of caregiving, which also may include such medical tasks as wound care and medication management. Knowing she'd become her sister's full-time caregiver, Simmer became a Certified Nurse Assistant. However, she noted, most people don't have that sort of training when they are thrust into the caregiving role.

"On top of immediately learning that a loved one is ill and needs care often comes the fact that, 'I don't know how to do that. What if I hurt 'em? What if I don't do it right?' There's so many questions," she said.

In an effort to address the challenges caregivers face, Askvig said AARP helped get the CARE Act passed this year, which provides support for caregivers upon a loved one's release from the hospital.

"We also worked with the North Dakota Department of Human Services to look at how do we get people more breaks across the lifespan of what they call respite care," he said, "and helping them find support for those caregivers to get a planned, or sometimes emergency, break."

Askvig said a growing aging population will only increase the demand for caregivers in the years to come.

The report is online at aarp.org.

Disclosure: AARP North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - ND