New Ways of Supporting Family Caregivers in Caring for Seniors

Family caregivers need help!

You may not hear them asking for it as they selflessly pour themselves into meeting the needs of loved ones, but they do.

Family caregivers need help to continue to provide care for senior loved ones, help so that they can care for themselves and help to continue to work to secure their own future.

They need help meeting the needs of their senior loved ones because they do this on a daily basis.

They need help coping, providing care nurses usually do, communicating with the healthcare team and making all their family members happy.

They need help to get a break for a little while or a vacation.

They need help navigating the maze of insurance, healthcare, treatment options and the latest technology to make their lives easier.

They need someone to thank them for a job well done!

Who can and should be supporting family caregivers?

Supporting Family Caregivers Financially

Family caregivers should be able to count on a little help in providing care from the government because care provided by family members takes a great burden off government programs like Medicare.

There are things that many advocates believe family caregivers need and deserve to help them provide the care that is needed for our nation of aging adults. Some of these needs, once met, can benefit the government as well because seniors would rely less on their government benefits.

There is a coming shortfall in the number of family caregivers who will be able to provide care to a growing population of seniors. There won’t be money available from the seniors themselves or the government supported insurance programs to provide paid caregivers and congregate living facilities for all the seniors who will be in need.

The cost of replacing the unpaid care that is currently provided by family caregivers would run in the billions – – and no one entity can take over that amount of service.

Therefore, it is in the interest of public health to create solutions and put plans into place that will allow family caregivers to meet the needs of their seniors rather than those seniors turning to government to meet their full needs.

Government Help for Family Caregivers

How can government help caregivers? There are a variety of suggestions already put forward by family caregiver advocates and experts as well as government officials who have the voice to advocate for our seniors and caregivers.

Here are a few of the current proposals put forth by officials or states that have brainstorming ideas to support family caregivers and seniors across the country.

Tax Credits

Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, among others, has proposed a tax credit for caregivers up to $1,200 to care for ailing parents and grandparents. Realizing the financial burden caregiving can take, this topic should be one that we start asking all our candidates.

It is estimated that 60% of caregivers who are employed have to cut back hours, take a leave or even quit to care for family members and report paying for some of their duties in the amount of $50,000. This tax credit would be formulated based on 20% of expenses and slide depending on earned income. It wouldn’t cover caring for a spouse at this time however. Clinton’s proposal was based on the bill called the Americans Giving Care to Elders (AGE) Act.

Social Security Caregiver Credits

Another idea proposed, which has not gotten as much support but could be helpful for family caregivers protecting their own retirement benefits when they take time off for caregiving, is receiving a Social Security credit for the time spent caregiving and not employed.

Giving up employment could impact the amount of benefit you earn so credits could help offset this loss.

Respite Funding

A proposal that would directly benefit family caregivers is to increase the funding for state level grants for respite care. Currently the government has funded $5 million for grants to the Lifespan Respite Care program and one proposal would like to double that amount to $10 billion.

Paid Family Leave

A bill to provide paid leave available to every employee has been co-sponsored by Senator (and Presidential candidate) Bernie Sanders under the FAMILY Act.

FMLA Coverage

Paid leave for millennial caregivers is lacking. FMLA was initiated to help work-family balance 22 years ago but may not be fulling supporting millennials.

Many younger people are having children while unmarried and not able to handle unpaid leave to care for senior family members. It is estimated that there are 10 million family caregivers 18-34 years old who care for seniors. They need paid family leave to help with the seniors in their life because they are sole supporters for themselves too.

The current requirements for FMLA eliminate as many as 40% of the current workforce.

CARE Act Legislation

Because as many as 34 million people currently provide unpaid care in the US for people over 50, advocates are pushing for adoption of the CARE Act Legislation in 2016.

The goal of this initiative is to set up clear guidelines and procedures for hospitals to help caregivers with the transition of seniors from the hospital to home.

A caregiver would be designated prior to discharge. That person is then responsible for facilitating the transition to home. Hospital staff would train this person in all procedures and treatment plan goals so that he or she would become the point of contact for that senior. It helps the caregiver receive more educational support although not financially or for respite to help their senior loved one to age in place.

This legislation is being championed now in Hawaii but a similar law has already been passed in eighteen other states.

In Michigan, a similar law has passed the state Senate and is awaiting the approval of the House. Their version would require hospitals to designate a lay family caregiver. This person would receive discharge plans which incorporate the senior’s after-care needs and train the caregiver as needed to provide care. The goal is to support seniors and their caregivers to remain at home.

Michigan family caregiver numbers are expected to decline from a 7 to 1 ratio today to 4 to 1 by 2030.

Technology to Assist Dementia Family Caregivers

We anxiously await new technology innovations that could benefit seniors and their family caregivers when aging in place. More ideas continue to percolate from innovators, especially when a solution is resolved instead of a gadget looking for a problem to fix comes to market.

One new idea to help fill gaps in how we care for seniors at home includes this tech solution from CanAssist in British Columbia, which is funded by the Ministry of Health, focusing on seniors with dementia. Their hope is to intervene with solutions that will help people with dementia remain at home safely.

The Wandering Redirect System is currently being tested by families. It uses a small screen in the form of a tablet which sits at the bedside of a senior with dementia. It is illuminated with the time of day and prompts such as “STOP it’s night time, please go back to bed.” This is meant to redirect and reorient someone who might awaken and decide to wander during the night. Because people with dementia often confuse day and night, this is supposed to help orient them for a safer, more appropriate behavior.

Another tablet is attached to the doorway and is motion activated. It prompts the senior using the caregiver’s own voice and video stating whatever prompt is appropriate such as “it’s night, the stores are closed, time to go back to bed.” Seeing and hearing a familiar person helps to calm and reassure the senior.

If the senior continues to move and wander, an alert is sent to the caregiver. The screens can be used during the day with time and planned activities to reorient for daytime events such as time for medication. It can be set by caregiver remotely too.

One great aspect of this idea is the absence of monthly fees or subscription rates to keep the system functioning.

We Need Solutions, Not Rhetoric

New ideas such as these that are practical interventions — both effective and affordable — are what caregivers want and can use to help keep their senior loved ones safe at home.

The hope, of course, is that sound bites turn into actual programs that are accessible to caregivers. Good ideas that don’t get put into practice aren’t helpful and building hope without action is frustrating for caregivers.

Perhaps we need to advocate more for what we want and need as caregivers and not wait for others to decide what we want, whether that comes from our government or manufacturers.

4 thoughts on “New Ways of Supporting Family Caregivers in Caring for Seniors”

  1. Very well said. While there is acute need today, a growing tidal wave is approaching. One caregiver subset are those with loved ones challenged with mild cognitive impairment. KalendarKards Memory Support System was developed for my cofounder’s mother-in-law who was having trouble remember important activities around her home. It is based on very specialized playing cards, allowing users to “play their day.”

    Aging in place is a more rewarding and less costly option. KalendarKards is proud to be helping many people remain comfortable and confident in their own homes.

    David Wiederrich
    KalendarKards LLC

    • Thanks for sharing David. We are familiar with KalendarKards and believe they could help many. Caregivers need all the support and work-arounds they can get to help with caregiving those with dementia!

  2. I couldn’t agree with you more on this. We are going to need more options for seniors. The family caregiver is becoming an elusive resource! However, with technology I do believe we can make strides forward in keeping elderly independent longer.

    Thanks for the great article! I think people need to be reminded of the issue our society is facing now and how it will only increase!

    K. Thiessen

    • Thanks Krissy! We agree that technology could be very helpful for aging in place when we find what works best to improve function and quality of life for our seniors. We appreciate you helping us spread the message!

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