Opinions

Alaska’s caregivers are unsung heroes

Chances are, if you aren’t a family caregiver yourself, you know someone who is. Every day, at least 82,000 Alaskans help their parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, neighbors and other loved ones to live independently. In the face of COVID-19, family caregivers have stepped up more than ever to keep friends and family members safe and healthy.

Family caregivers are unsung heroes. They make independent living possible once elders need help with activities of daily living. Many people experience some increased need for support as they age. For others, a serious accident or health episode can lead to a sudden need for caregiving. In either case, most people can continue to live at home if they and their caregivers can get the right in-home services and resources.

For those who are not living in an assisted living or nursing home, only three in 10 use paid help from housekeepers, aides or other assistance. That’s because most caregiving in the U.S. is done by unpaid caregivers — usually friends and family.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to highlight the important work that unpaid caregivers do. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also declared November 2021 as Family Caregivers Month here in Alaska. The proclamation encourages all Alaskans to recognize the importance of family caregivers as part of our long-term system and to support them in their caregiving responsibilities. Housing the fastest growing senior population in the nation, our state has room for improvement in supporting Alaskans to age at home and the caregivers who support them.

In Alaska and across the country, AARP is fighting to support family caregivers and the loved ones they care for. At the state and federal levels, AARP advocates for policies and funding that make it more possible for Alaskans to age at home including:

• Protecting and increasing both state and federal funding for home and community based services to support elders in aging at home once they need caregiving and the family members that support them.

• Increasing access and coverage for telehealth services to help Alaskans and their caregivers better manage their health.

• Increasing the accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet to support access to telehealth, public services, online caregiving and health management tools, and brain health resources like social connection, learning, and recreation.

In Washington, D.C., AARP is fighting for the passage of the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act, which would provide a federal income tax credit for eligible working family caregivers to defray the out-of-pocket costs of family caregiving, like home care assistance, adult daycare and respite care, home modifications, and assistive technologies.

AARP is also advocating for a federal paid family and medical leave program to better support family caregivers who work full- or part-time.

Resources for family caregivers

Recognizing the many challenges of caring for a friend or family member, AARP offers free resources to help make caring for a loved one more manageable.

• AARP provides information and resources on caregiver life balance, financial and legal issues, care at home, health and more. Learn more.

• AARP’s Alaska Family Caregiving Resource Guide is a FREE resource to help family caregivers access key programs, services and agencies across the state. Access the guide online or call 1-877-333-5885 to have a copy mailed to you.

• We can also help you learn more about whether care at home is the right option for you and your loved one. Learn more.

Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system. We are thankful for all their contributions to keeping older Alaskans safe, healthy, and well cared-for. During National Family Caregivers Month and beyond, let’s give them the support they have earned.

Teresa Holt is the state director of AARP Alaska. AARP Alaska is a nonpartisan non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Alaskans to choose how they live as they age. AARP creates positive social change through advocacy, information, and service focused on health security, financial resilience and social connection.

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