Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women as Caregivers

Posted on 03/19/24 by Mandy Stanage Shoptaw

During Women’s History Month we are highlighting key issues that impact women and caregiving is certainly at the top of our list. Women’s History Month enables us to acknowledge the compassionate and often overlooked role of caregiver that women, who statistically live longer than men, often find themselves playing.

What makes someone a caregiver? This was a question posed at a recent AARP Arkansas event. A caregiver provides support, assistance, and care to another person who may be experiencing illness, disability, aging, or other challenges that limit their ability to perform daily activities independently. We heard a lot of “I just” statements at our event such as:

“I just pick up my mom’s prescriptions and groceries once a week...”
"I just help my dad pay his bills throughout the month...”
“I just stay overnight with my loved one to make sure they don’t fall...”

No matter how big or small, caregivers play a crucial role in ensuring the well-being of another and offering physical, emotional, organizational, and sometimes financial assistance. Caregivers can be family members, friends, or hired professionals. Regardless of the relationship, caregiving requires compassion, patience, and a commitment to the overall welfare of the person receiving care.

With an aging population, the demand for caregivers has surged and, according to AARP’s most recent Valuing the Invaluable survey, “By the year 2034, adults ages 65 and older will outnumber children under the age of 18, and the share of potential caregivers is projected to continue shrinking relative to the number of older adults potentially at risk for needing long-term care.” Women have historically taken on the responsibility of caring for others and this often means juggling multiple roles, including careers and family obligations, along with caregiving.

“To me, when you are working and a caregiver, the most important thing is that you take care of yourself,” says Emma Rand, an AARP Arkansas volunteer who has been a caregiver for several family members. “If you don’t, you can easily burn out.”

Emma Rand smiles at the camera wearing a gray suit.
Emma Rand smiles during a visit to the AARP Arkansas State Office.

Emma shared about the struggles of going round the clock during those years, “During my working years, I was a mom caring for kids and my husband became ill and was at the VA hospital in North Little Rock. I would get up in the mornings; take the kids to school; work a full-time job and check on my husband after work as we did not have family medical leave. My mom would care for the kids in the afternoon and feed them dinner, and then I was back at it.”

“We established a routine,” Emma said, “But constantly going, even on Saturdays and Sundays, I burned out. When I finally took time for myself, I remember just staying in bed and sleeping. I say that to say that it is so important for the caregiver to have her own team of support.”

Balancing a full-time job with part-time caregiving responsibilities can have significant financial ramifications for women including potential career interruptions, limited opportunities for advancement, and decreased long-term earning potential due to stops and starts in work, contributing to the well-documented wage gaps women already face. In a worst-case scenario, an employee may have to leave a job or move to a part-time or flexible work arrangement, which can further lead to reduced wages with fewer benefits and retirement savings.

Caregivers often incur additional expenses related to the care recipient's needs, such as medical bills, medications, and home modifications. Women caregivers play a significant role in supporting veterans with various needs, including those related to physical and mental health. According to AARP, “Family and others who provide care for veterans spend on average $11,500 of their personal income on out-of-pocket costs related to caregiving each year—1.5 times higher than what other family caregivers spend ($7,242), according to AARP data. And 43% of veteran and military caregivers experienced at least one financial setback such as having to take on more debt or dip into personal savings, according to research from AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.”

AARP Arkansas’ Speakers Bureau has a range of topics they can present to organizations around the state and one of the most popular is “Prepare to Care.” Sally Fittsizer, Speakers Bureau Lead says, “Caregivers own health is often at risk from high stress and not attending to self-care, including restorative sleep, physical activity, eating well, social connections, and routine medical care.”

Some caregivers rebuff the idea of self-care, but Fittsizer reminds them that, “Self-care is not selfish, but essential for caregivers to be their best selves in difficult situations. Many people are willing to help with small or large tasks, if caregivers let them join their team.”

Sally Fittsizer speaks to a room of people about caregiving.
Sally Fittsizer speaks to a room of people during a luncheon in West Little Rock about the AARP Arkansas Speakers Bureau, which includes programs on Brain Health, Decluttering, and Caregiving.

The stress and demands of caregiving can lead to health issues for the caregiver, resulting in increased healthcare costs. According to an AARP article, “Researchers are seeking to better understand how the 48 million adults providing unpaid care in the United States manage the anxiety, worry, and concern that often creeps into their daily routines.” More than half the caregivers in the study reported that they have difficulty making time to care for their own mental health and 41% of respondents say they often feel lonely.

Even for all the down sides of caregiving, the AARP survey found that "caregiving can add to peoples lives. Despite the challenging emotions of caregiving, a resounding 82% of caregivers say the role gives them a sense of purpose in life, and 81% say it makes them feel good about themselves.”

The tireless dedication and selflessness of women in this vital sphere deserve recognition and celebration throughout the year. AARP Arkansas continues to listen to the more than 420,000 unpaid caregivers in our state, many of whom are women, so that we can educate lawmakers and others about the needs of this unique group. How can you help? Share your caregiving stories with us! Raise Your Hand for caregivers and show them you care.

"Caregiving in the U.S. 2020" - AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving.
"The Many Faces of Caregivers" - AARP Public Policy Institute.
"Valuing the Invaluable: 2020 Update" - AARP Public Policy Institute.
"Valuing the Invaluable: 2023 Update" - AARP Public Policy Institute.
"The Impact of Caregiving on Women's Careers" - Harvard Business Review.
"The True Cost of Care: A Report" - Genworth.
"The Financial Impact of Caregiving on Women" - AARP
"Caregiving's Health Costs to Family Caregivers" - AARP Public Policy Institute.
“The Cost of Giving: Family Caregivers' Mental Health” - AARP
"Military and Veteran Caregivers: A Critical Support System" - Elizabeth Dole Foundation.

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

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