Caregiving Events Aim to Provide Tips, Tools

Posted on 10/31/23 by Tamara Lytle

Keisha Jackson, 57, of Brambleton, knows just how much caregiving can stretch and strain a person.

For more than three years, starting in 2005, she tended to her ailing mother, who was dying of lung cancer. Jackson averaged less than three hours of sleep a night as she juggled her Air Force IT job and her mom’s care. With her mom, then in her early 60s, living in Philadelphia, she was seemingly always on the phone or on the road.

“Caregivers—they become proxy lawyers, doctors, chaplains, chefs, Uber drivers,” says Jackson, who retired from active duty and became a government contractor to ensure she wasn’t deployed while her mother needed her help. “You just do it all. ... And you’re learning as you go.”

AARP Virginia is sharing the experiences of Jackson and other caregivers, along with key resources, during two November webinars to mark National Family Caregivers Month. Jackson will address the needs of military families during the first session, on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 7 p.m. She notes that military families often face additional caregiving challenges, such as helping amputees or veterans with PTSD.

The second webinar—“Making Cents of Caregiving Costs,” scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 28, at 3 p.m.— will be led by Katherine Ponds, of Washington, D.C. Like Jackson, Ponds has taken care of multiple family members—her brother, who had a stroke three years ago, and her mother, who died in 2021 after she became bedridden with heart problems.

Her presentation will emphasize the need to build a team of family and friends to share caregiving responsibilities and the need to have candid conversations about finances. Caregivers often end up with significant out-of-pocket costs, from purchasing gas and groceries to helping out with medical expenses and home modifications.

For more information about the caregiving events and to register, visit events.aarp.org/VACare. Both sessions will be recorded and available to watch later on AARP Virginia’s YouTube channel (youtube.com/
@aarpvirginia2895).

An essential role

Family caregivers in Virginia provided an estimated 920 million hours of care for older parents, spouses and other loved ones in 2021, according to AARP research. That can involve everything from making meals and managing medications to providing emotional support and attending medical appointments.

Those tasks often take a toll on the caregiver’s physical and mental health. Thirty-six percent of caregivers characterize their situation as highly stressful, according to a 2020 report from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.

Nobody wakes up thinking they want to have that much stress in their life with no pay, says Jackson, who also cared for her brother during his six-month recovery from a bad fall. But, she adds, “It’s very rewarding, especially to have that opportunity to care for your loved one.”

In 2022, AARP Virginia pushed for legislation that would have created a nonrefundable tax credit of up to $1,000 for family caregivers under certain income levels. It did not advance, but AARP Virginia still supports the idea, says Jared Calfee, AARP Virginia’s state advocacy director.

Amber Sultane, AARP Virginia’s community outreach director, says she hopes the spotlight of November’s caregiver month will raise public awareness of caregiver issues and help convince policymakers to take steps to help family caregivers.

“It’s hugely important that we recognize caregivers, because they are the backbone of our long-term care system and without them, I don’t know where we would be,” says Sultane, who cares for her 46-year-old sister, who has developmental delays.

Russell Schiavone, 67, an AARP volunteer from Roanoke, says the tax credit would help many of Virginia’s unpaid family caregivers. He helped deliver AARP’s “Prepare to Care” seminar and now gives AARP presentations on Medicare. He and his two siblings became caregivers for their father after his mother died suddenly.

During his presentations, Schiavone says, participants cite some of their top challenges as the out-of-pocket expenses and the time and headaches of dealing with doctors and insurance companies. Families are far better off preparing in advance for potential needs, he says.

Tamara Lytle, a freelance writer in the Washington area, covers everything from politics to parenting. She has written for the Bulletin for 15 years.

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This story is provided by AARP Virginia. Visit the AARP Virginia page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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