June 21, 2018 is the longest day of the year and the day set aside by the Alzheimer’s Association to show love for those affected by Alzheimer’s disease. The truth is, every day can be the longest day for women who carry the responsibility of lovingly caring for a person with any type of disability.
Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias demand intense caregiving and women shoulder a particularly heavy burden. The care they provide can be more physically and emotionally demanding and more time-consuming, and it takes a heavier toll on their work and family life. Women, as caregivers, often do not get the help and support they need to provide the years (even decades) of care required for loved ones diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She is drained emotionally, physically and financially.
One fact in particular jumped off the page as I read the recently released Status of Women in Florida by County: Health & Well-Being report. Did you know more than one in five Florida women aged 65 and older (21.7 percent) reside with a person with a disability? This is very personal to me since I’m 67 years old and know first-hand how women cope when Alzheimer’s, as only one example of a disability, knocks on the door to visit and never leaves. I believe the percentage of 21.7 is much higher since most women do not check the little box on a survey that asks, “Are you over age 65 and residing with a person with a disability?” I never thought to check that box.
And yet, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the economic impact of dementia caregiving across the nation is huge, and particularly in Florida which is only behind California and Texas in terms of numbers of caregivers, hours of unpaid care and the value of that care. In 2017, there were approximately 1,121,000 dementia caregivers in Florida, who provided more than 1.25 billion hours of unpaid care, valued at more than $16 billion. The numbers are staggering, and the burden in our state falls mostly on women.
The Status of Women in Florida Report underscored other disturbing health challenges, including the rate of diabetes, an increase in suicide, and the widespread violence in Florida against women, but the plight of Florida women who are caregivers hit a personal chord with me.
Several policies recommended by the Report would go a long way to provide much-needed relief to the many women in Florida living with a person who has one or more disabilities. They include:
- pass paid family leave and paid sick days laws for working caregivers
- address the high cost and lack of availability of long-term services and support
- ensure that Medicaid adequately supports low-income people and allows them to receive services in their preferred settings
- allow registered nurses to delegate more tasks to trained direct care workers
- allow nurses to focus on tasks they are uniquely qualified to perform and nurse practitioners to practice to the fullest extent of their education and training.
There is no simple or single solution, but these policies would go a long way to support caregiving women in Florida. Every day is our longest day.
Go to http://fundwomenfl.org/research/ to view the complete report for all key findings and recommended solutions.
Respectfully submitted by:
Brenda Tate, CEO
Southwest Florida Women’s Foundation