Mukwonago, Wisconsin – November marks National Family Caregivers Month, a time to recognize the 40 million Americans – including an estimated 578,000 from Wisconsin – who help older parents, spouses, and other loved ones live independently at home, where they want to be.
The unpaid care they provide, such as managing medications, cooking meals, driving to appointments, performing complex medical tasks and more, is valued at about $7 billion in Wisconsin alone.
Sherrie Palm of Mukwonago is one of these unsung heroes.
Sherrie is in the “sandwich generation,” providing support throughout much of her life for both parents and children, including step-children. Sherrie is the founder and Executive Director for the healthcare nonprofit Association for Pelvic Organ Prolapse Support. Her caregiving work has been an add-on.
“I learned as I went. You make mistakes, but you only make them once. I’m an all-cards-on-the-table kind of person, so I learn by asking questions. We all want to keep the wheels turning. We all feel guilty – like we should do more. I am able to find balance by laughing and focusing on the funny,” she said.
AARP Wisconsin is recognizing Sherrie with a “Portrait of Care,” which is an artist’s painting of her with a loved one.
Selected through AARP’s storytelling initiative called “I Heart Caregivers”, Sherrie is among 53 family caregivers chosen nationwide, including one each from each state, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to receive a hand-painted portrait.
Thousands of caregivers have shared their stories on the website www.aarp.org/iheartcaregivers
“We want to celebrate family caregivers, spotlight their experiences of hope, love, dedication and perseverance, and elevate their stories – especially during National Family Caregivers Month,” said Sam Wilson of AARP Wisconsin, which serves about 820,000 Wisconsinites age 50 and older. “This is especially important as we work to support family caregivers through public policy, education, outreach and more.
“Family caregivers are the backbone of our care system, serving a crucial role in helping older Wisconsinites and other loved ones remain in their own homes and communities as long as possible,” Wilson said. “That’s why AARP is fighting for commonsense solutions to help make their big responsibilities a little bit easier.”
For nearly 15 years Sherrie has provided guidance for her parents and son, Erik – now age 27 – who has aggressive Lyme and additional underlying health concerns. Her father has degenerative spine issues while her mother suffers from genetic endocrine disorders and severe arthritis. “The backdrop of everything I do is to help out on either side as best I can,” she said.
Sherrie stays in daily contact with her son and visits her parents every chance she gets. She cooks dinner, shares funny stories, stays overnight and helps manage medical consultations and quality of life needs.
“I’ve come to recognize that on days when I feel like the mayo on all three layers of a triple-decker sandwich, nothing feeds my soul and recharges my battery like humor,” she says.
“Being a sandwich boomer is all day every day. At times do I feel like my life is absurd sideways? You bet. Would I trade a single aspect of it? Not on your life. If I can get the people I care about to laugh out loud, it fires my engines and I’m good to go.”
Earlier this year, AARP conducted a statewide survey of registered voters age 45 and older in Wisconsin to learn about their experiences, challenges and needs as family caregivers, and attitudes toward public policy that would support family caregivers.
The survey found that family caregivers in Wisconsin provide 538 million hours of care per year to their parents, spouses, partners, and other adult loved ones. They help with daily activities such as bathing or dressing, preparing meals, administering medications, driving to doctor visits, and paying bills.
“This report demonstrates that we need to do more to assist the hundreds of thousands of caregivers in our state,” said Wilson said. “Some of the things that will help family caregivers include improved workplace flexibility, respite care, tax credits and home care services.”
AARP is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, with a membership of more than 37 million, that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families such as healthcare, employment security and retirement planning. We advocate for consumers in the marketplace by selecting products and services of high quality and value to carry the AARP name as well as help our members obtain discounts on a wide range of products, travel, and services. A trusted source for lifestyle tips, news and educational information, AARP produces AARP The Magazine, the world’s largest circulation magazine; AARP Bulletin; www. aarp.org; AARP TV & Radio; AARP Books; and AARP VIVA, a bilingual news source. AARP does not endorse candidates for public office or make contributions to political campaigns or candidates. The AARP Foundation is an affiliated charity that provides security, protection, and empowerment to older persons in need with support from thousands of volunteers, donors, and sponsors. AARP has staffed offices in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Learn more at www.aarp.org.