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Alaska’s caregivers are unsung heroes

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-11-25 09:45

Caregiver Mayzel Tolosa helps client Betty Lee Higgins paint a pumpkin at the Turnagain Social Club on Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016. (Loren Holmes / ADN) (Loren Holmes/)

Chances are, if you aren’t a family caregiver yourself, you know someone who is. Every day, at least 82,000 Alaskans help their parents, spouses, siblings, grandparents, neighbors and other loved ones to live independently. In the face of COVID-19, family caregivers have stepped up more than ever to keep friends and family members safe and healthy.

Family caregivers are unsung heroes. They make independent living possible once elders need help with activities of daily living. Many people experience some increased need for support as they age. For others, a serious accident or health episode can lead to a sudden need for caregiving. In either case, most people can continue to live at home if they and their caregivers can get the right in-home services and resources.

For those who are not living in an assisted living or nursing home, only three in 10 use paid help from housekeepers, aides or other assistance. That’s because most caregiving in the U.S. is done by unpaid caregivers — usually friends and family.

November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to highlight the important work that unpaid caregivers do. Gov. Mike Dunleavy has also declared November 2021 as Family Caregivers Month here in Alaska. The proclamation encourages all Alaskans to recognize the importance of family caregivers as part of our long-term system and to support them in their caregiving responsibilities. Housing the fastest growing senior population in the nation, our state has room for improvement in supporting Alaskans to age at home and the caregivers who support them.

In Alaska and across the country, AARP is fighting to support family caregivers and the loved ones they care for. At the state and federal levels, AARP advocates for policies and funding that make it more possible for Alaskans to age at home including:

• Protecting and increasing both state and federal funding for home and community based services to support elders in aging at home once they need caregiving and the family members that support them.

• Increasing access and coverage for telehealth services to help Alaskans and their caregivers better manage their health.

• Increasing the accessibility and affordability of high-speed internet to support access to telehealth, public services, online caregiving and health management tools, and brain health resources like social connection, learning, and recreation.

In Washington, D.C., AARP is fighting for the passage of the bipartisan Credit for Caring Act, which would provide a federal income tax credit for eligible working family caregivers to defray the out-of-pocket costs of family caregiving, like home care assistance, adult daycare and respite care, home modifications, and assistive technologies.

AARP is also advocating for a federal paid family and medical leave program to better support family caregivers who work full- or part-time.

Resources for family caregivers

Recognizing the many challenges of caring for a friend or family member, AARP offers free resources to help make caring for a loved one more manageable.

• AARP provides information and resources on caregiver life balance, financial and legal issues, care at home, health and more. Learn more.

• AARP’s Alaska Family Caregiving Resource Guide is a FREE resource to help family caregivers access key programs, services and agencies across the state. Access the guide online or call 1-877-333-5885 to have a copy mailed to you.

• We can also help you learn more about whether care at home is the right option for you and your loved one. Learn more.

Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system. We are thankful for all their contributions to keeping older Alaskans safe, healthy, and well cared-for. During National Family Caregivers Month and beyond, let’s give them the support they have earned.

Teresa Holt is the state director of AARP Alaska. AARP Alaska is a nonpartisan non-profit organization dedicated to empowering Alaskans to choose how they live as they age. AARP creates positive social change through advocacy, information, and service focused on health security, financial resilience and social connection.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.

Feeling grateful this Thanksgiving for the COVID-19 vaccines

Alaska News - Thu, 2021-11-25 09:37

Dr. Jay Butler (Courtesy Jay Butler)

I hope that as you read this, you are spending time this holiday weekend with friends and family and finding time to do whatever it is that recharges you — maybe getting some extra sleep, reading a book by the fire or heading outside for some physical activity and time in nature, caring for your mental and physical health.

You may also be grieving the loss of a loved one, missing family or friends or reflecting on the challenges of the last few years. As we approach the darkest time of the year in Alaska, I find gratitude can help brighten even the darkest days.

Even with loss in my own family this year, there are so many things I am grateful for — family, friends, the amazing teams I work with at the state of Alaska and in the emergency department, our beautiful and inspiring state and Alaskans who inspire me every day with their energy, strength and resilience.

But this photo from my predecessor, Dr. Jay Butler, summarizes it best — this year I am most grateful for the COVID-19 vaccines.

Developed by science in record time and with impressive safety and effectiveness, the COVID-19 vaccines remain our strongest tool in combating the pandemic and helping us return to our lives and the things we love and cherish. The vaccine itself is destroyed by our body shortly after it’s administered; what is left is our natural immune system that is now better trained to recognize and fight the SARS-CoV-2 virus if we do get infected.

Vaccines are one of the safest things we do in medicine, often safer than even over-the-counter medication. Many people these days overestimate the risks of the vaccines and underestimate the risks of COVID-19, but the data is clear: Vaccines help protect you, your family and your community and are safe for nearly everyone age 5 and older.

On Nov. 19, COVID-19 vaccine boosters became available for anyone age 18 and older if six months have passed since a person’s second dose of mRNA (Pfizer or Moderna) vaccine or two months have passed since a single shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. While the vaccines remain highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, we’re seeing that protection from the vaccines does wane over time. Boosters help restore strong immunity and increase protection against COVID-19, a benefit to all Alaskans. This is a great time — as people start traveling and visiting with others during the holiday season — for most Alaskans to get boosted.

This is also true even if you have previously had COVID-19. While immunity from past infection does provide some level of protection, it is variable and, like immunity from the vaccines, also wanes over time. Studies show that people who were previously infected are better protected when they are also vaccinated. However, you should not get vaccinated if you are actively infectious with COVID-19 or are within 90 days of receiving monoclonal antibodies.

Boosters, like the primary series of the COVID-19 vaccines, are free and widely available. You can find them, like COVID-19 vaccines, at pop-up events, school clinics, doctors’ offices or pharmacies. You can find a vaccine provider by visiting vaccines.gov or covidvax.alaska.gov, or by calling our helpline at 907-646-3322 if you have questions or trouble finding an appointment.

When you are looking for a booster, you can get the same brand as before or you can take a “mix and match” approach to booster shots. For example, people who initially received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine can choose either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine for their booster. It does look like people get better protection from the mRNA vaccines (Moderna and Pfizer) so this may be worth considering as you choose your booster. You can also get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time you receive other vaccines such as your flu shot, which is important this year as influenza is picking up and flu vaccination rates for Alaska are down this year.

We’re making tangible progress. More than 370,000 Alaskans to date have rolled up their sleeves to become fully vaccinated against COVID and we now have life-saving therapeutics if people do get infected. Cases are starting to come down, thousands of Alaskans are starting their vaccine series every week, our hospitals are starting to have more capacity and it is joyous to see people gather, laugh, hug and be together. We are not powerless over this pandemic. We have tools to stay healthy and well. We must care for our physical and mental health, get vaccinated and boosted, wash our hands, test if we have symptoms or before events and gatherings, stay home and seek early treatment when we are sick — and, while cases are high in many communities, mask when in public.

Like those legendary sled dogs of Alaska lore, the heroes of the 1925 serum run to Nome, Alaskans are tough and care for each other. This holiday season let us count our many blessings, celebrate what it means to be Alaskans, and continue to protect ourselves and our communities — remembering the enemy is the virus, and not each other.

Dr. Anne Zink, M.D., is a board-certified emergency physician and Alaska’s chief medical officer.

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by the Anchorage Daily News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)adn.com. Send submissions shorter than 200 words to letters@adn.com or click here to submit via any web browser. Read our full guidelines for letters and commentaries here.