Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Community Voices by University of Hawaii adjunct professor Dawn Webster and several of her students about taking care of aging family members, the challenges caregivers face and possible solutions, including legislative action this session.

We tend to think of long term caregiving as a baby boomer challenge. That’s the story the statistics seem to tell.

We know, for instance, that in Hawaii there are nearly 250,000 unpaid family caregivers looking after an elderly spouse or husband at home. That caregiver is more often than not a woman, 62 years of age and married.

They juggle jobs, children, and sometimes grandchildren as well, while shouldering much of the work of looking after the family member who is unable to perform some of the daily routines of living without help. It includes helping with activities such as getting in and out of bed, taking a shower, dressing, toileting, getting a drink or a meal or moving around the house.

FACE supporters SB2478 relating to long term care sit in Committee on Commerce, Consumer Protection and Health meeting chaired by Sen Ros Baker.

This year, the Legislature has before it a package of bills from the Kupuna Caucus that includes Kupuna Caregiver Assistance. Senate Bill 534 and House Bill 607 aim to provide some respite for family caregivers.

A voucher of $70 a day will help family caregivers pay for supplemental help from trained caregivers who can provide transportation, personal care services, adult day care and other chores and homemaking services so that the family member gets some respite. This will help reduce the necessity for time off from work for emergencies and may help keep some from resigning from their jobs, or retiring prematurely.

But the impact of looking after our aging seniors at home is also felt by millennials trying to juggle one or two low wage jobs to pay for college while keeping up with their academic obligations and trying to get the best grades they can.

As an adjunct member of the Honors faculty at the University of Hawaii Manoa, I have, in every class I have taught, had students tell me they could not come to a class or two, or could not complete an assignment on time because a grandmother was ill, or they had to accompany a parent to the hospital.

The idea of a dying relative, real or imagined, as an excuse for academic delinquency has become a bit of a joke. But the stories some of my students told of long-term caregiving challenges in their families were anything but jokes.

They are a reminder that the aging demographics of Hawaii is a challenge that touches all of us and we would be wise to begin taking concrete steps towards a solution by urging legislators to pass the Kupuna Caregivers Assistance bill this year.

Postscript: The Kupuna Caregivers Assistance Bill passed scrutiny by two committees last week: Commerce and Consumer Protection and Health and Human Services.

Members of the public are invited to attend a rally on Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Rotunda of the Hawaii State Capitol. People can go to Care4Kupuna learn more and add their names to the effort to move this important legislation forward.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author