3.4 million reasons to be thankful in November

By Tina Tran and
Charlene Hunter James

Across Texas, 3.4 million unpaid family caregivers are providing nearly 3 billion care hours each year to ensure the health and wellbeing of older parents, spouses, partners and friends with chronic disabling or serious health conditions.

The care in Texas is worth a staggering $35 billion, according to an AARP “Valuing the Invaluable” report that also finds that today’s family caregivers come from every age, racial and socioeconomic group, and include men as well as women.

Nationally, the analysis finds, there are 41 million family caregivers delivering 34 billion care hours worth an estimated $470 billion in economic value.

Behind the statistics are people we love and know doing an array of tasks, like cooking, washing, transporting, giving pills and shots and rubs, handling oxygen tubes, changing adult diapers, returning wanderers home, reading to those who can’t anymore and whose minds still seek input, tucking to bed loved ones, and awakening them, too.

The chores are carried out with love and a sense of responsibility by caregivers like Roslyn “Roz” Thibobeaux Goodall, 69, who splits her time living in Dallas with her husband and caring for her 92-year-old mother in Shreveport, Louisiana.

“This is my new normal, and I’m loving it,” Goodall says. “When I’m away from my mother, I’m more worried about her than when I’m with her. So, yes, it’s challenging. But at the end of the day,
I’m so grateful for a wonderful husband who has never complained about my not being with him to take care of my mom. All he says is, `Take care of your mother,’ and that’s a relief.”

Burdened by osteoarthritis, and requiring help with meals, laundry, housecleaning, doctor visits and more, Goodall’s mother isn’t the first loved one to have received her help. Goodall also spent years caring for two now-deceased women in her family. Besides caregiver, she volunteers with AARP and is a community organizer and retired human resources executive.

The care families provide one another is invaluable for those receiving it and is a precious resource for the communities, cities and states wrestling with the new realities of an aging population. And so, it’s vital that policymakers work to protect this precious resource of care, which is one of the reasons why, at AARP Texas, we are proud to recognize November as National Family Caregivers Month.

Thankfully, we have seen significant federal and state steps forward for caregivers. The RAISE Family Caregivers Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law in January, put forth a council that’s developing a national strategy to support caregivers. Here in Texas, the passage of the CARE Act helps caregivers as their loved ones return home from hospitalizations. And the Legislature this year provided funding for programs that provide respite, or rest, for caregivers.

A little rest is crucial, according to many family caregivers like Eddie Orum III, who lives in Houston’s Museum District and cares for multiple family members. A retired high school principal and current college adjunct professor, Orum, 65, said, “I’ve learned now that I need to keep myself healthy so I can be the kind of caregiver I want to be, which means taking breaks and staying in good health.”

Orum and Goodall say the economic value of family caregiving deserves greater public awareness. But for them, caregiving is also about giving back. “There’s no value to making sure my aunt and mother are in a safe environment,” Orum said. “I don’t see this as a responsibility. It’s just what I’m doing next in my life.”

Tina Tran is state director of AARP Texas. Charlene Hunter James is the volunteer state president of AARP Texas.

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