Caregivers deserve a helping hand

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Idaho boasts an army of volunteer caregivers, but according to a 2017 Idaho AARP survey, you might put this face on the poster.

The caregiver is a woman (58 percent), 55 or older (78 percent) who works full- or part-time while providing care (57 percent). She’s providing care because she a) doesn’t want her loved one to be moved out of his or her home or b) can’t afford any other option.

She’s stressed out emotionally (64 percent) and tapped out financially (31 percent).

And she’s got one big, beautiful heart.

The state’s AARP movers and shakers are traveling statewide to promote a bill destined for the 2018 legislative session called the Idaho Family Caregiver Act. Key to the bill is a provision that requires hospital staff to provide caregivers instruction on many aspects of taking care of a loved one that many of us wouldn’t instinctively know. These include giving shots, managing medications, changing dressings on wounds, even how to safely move the patient from one place to another. Kootenai Health already provides these services as a matter of standard operating procedure.

The Idaho Family Caregiver Act has a strong financial benefit in that one of the goals is to reduce the times patients need to be readmitted to hospitals, which is expensive for patient and hospital alike. But it’s also meant to ratchet that stress level down significantly.

According to AARP, Idaho has some 200,000 caregivers. A magnet for retiring seniors, the Gem State has a golden opportunity to join 36 others in adopting this compassionate, fiscally sensible legislation. Because we’re graying faster than many states, the need to better prepare family caregivers to safely help their seniors return home after a hospital stay is particularly timely.

The Press applauds AARP’s continued spirit of volunteer assistance. The nonprofit, nonpartisan organization with 38 million members (185,000 in Idaho) can often be found providing help where it’s most needed. During tax time, that’s free AARP tax preparation help. The organization also conducts Scam Jams statewide, alerting seniors to fraud and identity theft threats, and supports programs assisting vulnerable veterans.

But it’s hard to imagine a better cause today than helping our state’s caregivers, who don’t always fit the profile sketched at the beginning of this editorial. AARP officials visiting The Press on Thursday provided examples of caregivers across the spectrum, including an 88-year-old Athol resident who takes care of her 65-year-old daughter. Talk about stress.

Thanks to AARP, now we’re also talking about solutions.

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