Caregiver Support: There’s Help Available for Caregivers

Primary caregivers can look to intermittent FMLA guidelines and other public policies for caregiving relief.

By Jennifer L.W. Fink

Policies that help you provide caregiver support to an aging parent

As a caregiver providing support to an aging parent, you helped dad get dressed to the nines. You cooked several meals for him today, and administered each round of scheduled medication. But you’re too exhausted to put on your own pajamas. Sound familiar?

Today more than 34 million Americans serve as family caregivers for adults 50 and older, according to the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving. These caregivers spend an average of 24 hours a week providing caregiver support to a loved one, though nearly a quarter provide more than 40 hours a week.

Many caregivers find it tough to work full time and provide adequate care—but decreasing work hours often mean diminished take-home pay. It can be a maze, figuring out how to focus on your personal needs while also focusing on a loved one’s needs. But if you’re providing care for someone else, your well-being is vital. Here are some ways you can get support as a caregiver, now and in the future.

Talk about Family Medical Leave Act guidelines and public policies

Remember there are policies in place to help you balance your work schedule, while also providing the caregiving your parent needs.

  • What you can do now: Know your rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act. For example, FMLA guidelines state that you can take intermittent family medical leave. That means you get 12 weeks that you can take in small chunks of time. You can download a guide from the Department of Labor to learn more. FMLA may provide time off for caregiving, but that time is unpaid. Consider also working with your boss on alternative scheduling. “Be forthright with your boss, give a fair day’s work and ask for flexibility,” says Peter Rosenberger, a family caregiver and author of “Wear Comfortable Shoes: Surviving and Thriving as a Caregiver.” “The vast majority of bosses out there are willing to work with you if you give them upfront notification and they see that you’re performing.”
  • What you can do for future caregivers: “We are in need of new legislation to help the working caregiver,” says Diane Carbo, a registered nurse who works closely with caregivers. Advocate for public policies that make it easier for caregivers to balance work and caregiving. Consider contacting your state or local representatives. The Family Caregiver Alliance offers downloadable letters of support for legislation.

Get caregiver support

Caregivers shouldn’t have to sacrifice their self-interests to care for another. They need structures in place to protect their interests while they provide care.

  • What you can do now: “It never hurts to invest in a consultation with an attorney to find out what your rights and options are,” says Elizabeth Hanes, a registered nurse, family caregiver and creator of Depending on your caregiving responsibilities, you may need durable power of attorney, medical power of attorney and a signed HIPAA consent form to allow you access to your loved one’s medical information, all of which make it easier for you to provide for his or her needs.
  • What you can do for future caregivers: Push for legislation that protects caregivers’ needs. Many caregivers neglect their own health but regularly take their loved ones to the doctor. Carbo advocates for family-centered care and would like health care providers to assess and address caregivers’ needs during patient appointments. “Insurance should provide coverage so caregivers can receive health care when they are there with their family member,” Carbo says.    

Take vacation

It’s not uncommon for primary caregivers to go years without a vacation. Half of caregivers report skipping or reducing vacations or social activities as a result of their responsibilities. But constant caregiving isn’t healthy for the caregiver because the stress of caregiving can lead to burnout and illness in the caregiver. More than 1 in 5 caregivers say the experience has hurt their health.

  • What you can do now: Create a caregiving contract between you and your loved one, Carbo recommends. The contract should include what the caregiver will and won’t do, as well as coverage for vacation time and other time off. It should also include an alternate caregiving plan—such as home care, adult day care or a move to a senior living community—that goes into action when the family caregiver can no longer provide care without overwhelming stress or anxiety. (Hint: An independent third party, such as a church member or health care professional, can help you negotiate a contract.)
  • What you can do for future caregivers: Talk to your legislators about the need for respite care, which gives the caregiver a break. Respite care can range from having another family member provide the care for a while to a brief stay in assisted living for the senior. “Right now, respite care is desperately needed and there's no funding for it,” Carbo says.

How a Family Caregiver Can Get the Financial and Medical Information They Need

Being a caregiver can often feel overwhelming. Use this guide to learn how to handle all the emotional and financial responsibilities.

Download the Guide

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