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Kent Sovern, state director of AARP Iowa, discusses his organization's Iowa Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable (CARE) Act that would include measures to help unpaid family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home during a news conference at the Statehouse last month.

DES MOINES — Leaders of AARP Iowa released statewide survey results Monday they say indicate that most Iowans age 45 years or older strongly support measures that would help unpaid family caregivers.

Kent Sovern, the group's state director, said the answers gleaned from the 1,000 registered voters who were surveyed bolster AARP's effort to convince Iowa lawmakers to pass an Iowa Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable (CARE) Act that would include measures to help unpaid family caregivers when their loved ones go into the hospital and as they transition home.

The proposal from AARP, which represents more than 380,000 Iowans age 50 and older, would offer all Iowans the option to designate and record the name of a family caregiver upon admission into a hospital; inform and involve designated family caregivers in the process when the loved one they will be providing care for leaves the hospital; and offer the opportunity at the hospital for family caregivers to see live demonstrations and instructions on medical tasks the family caregiver may need to perform at home.

Sovern said the statewide survey highlights Iowa family caregiver experiences, challenges and needs, as well as recognizing and supporting the important role an estimated 540,000 Iowans play throughout the year as family caregivers in providing unpaid work and assistance that makes it possible for their parents, spouses or other loved ones to live independently at home.

"Today in Iowa, a silent army of more than half a million unpaid family caregivers are the unheralded backbone of our state's care system providing more than two-thirds of home care for older Iowans and adults with disabilities, valued at about $4.1 billion annually," Sovern said.

"If you're not a caregiver now, you were one in the past, or you'll likely be one in the future," Sovern added. "This survey should be a wake-up call to Iowa leaders about Iowa family caregiver realities and challenges and what our state needs to do to better support the challenges family caregivers face."

The survey found that that most Iowa registered voters age 45 and older have either had experience as family caregivers or think they are likely to be caregivers in the future, and they are strongly in favor of measures to help improve supports for family caregivers, Sovern said.

According to the survey, the typical current family caregivers in Iowa are mostly women (64 percent) between the ages of 55 and 64 years. They are likely to be married (76 percent), are working full or part time (54 percent) and earn less than $60,000 (54 percent). The average age of the person they are caring for is 78 years old.

Many Iowa family caregivers are heavily involved in the medical side of care of their loved ones, with about two-thirds of caregivers assisting with complex care, such as medication management, and overseeing other nursing and medical tasks, such as wound care and IVs and injections.

A large majority report their caregiving duties include assisting their loved ones with transportation, shopping, household chores, meal preparation and providing assistance in managing finances.

"Family caregivers are the first line of defense against older Iowans being forced from their homes and into nursing homes and back into the hospital, but as our survey results show, this is not an easy task," Sovern said.

The survey, conducted by telephone last November, has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.