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How Family Caregivers Can Be Their Own Advocates

Family caregivers bear an enormous amount of responsibility. Often, they look after sick and aging loved ones at great personal sacrifice, whether it be financial, emotional, or time-wise. And although you may care deeply for your loved one, it’s not hard to feel like you’re at the end of your rope sometimes.
So what do you do when you need additional help? Of course, you can always hire a home care agency to assist with daily tasks. But beyond that, you can also make a real difference in the lives of family caregivers everywhere. You can become an advocate.

How family caregivers can change public policy

One of the biggest ways that family caregivers can advocate for positive change is through public policy. You can petition elected officials whose job it is to develop these policies and decide where funding goes. You can also get involved on a local, state, or federal level.

Writing letters

Writing or e-mailing your elected representative is a good way to get started on advocacy. Here are a few tips:

  • Make sure your handwriting is legible. If not, type your message.
  • Be brief. Messages should be no more than one page, and preferably less if you can manage it.
  • If you’re for or against a particular bill or act, try to refer to it by its specific name or number.
  • Tell your representative what you want. For instance, you might politely request they cast their vote a particular way, then explain why.
  • Choose the right recipient for your letter. Your representative is more likely to take you seriously if you are one of his or her own constituents.

You can find addresses for your representatives here:
The Senate:[1. “U.S. Senate,”]
The House:[2. “Directory of Representatives,”]
For your representatives in California, write to:
California State Legislature
The Honorable [Last Name]
State Capitol
Sacramento, CA 95814
Address your letter to “Dear Representative [Last Name],” “Dear Senator [Last Name],” or “Dear Assemblymember [Last Name],” according to what position they hold.

Making phone calls

Phone calls are timely ways to make your voice heard, and often work well when you call Capitol offices just before a vote is to be made. When calling, keep the following things in mind:

  • You’ll probably speak to an assistant, or a member of the representative’s staff. This is normal; do not ask to speak to the representative directly.
  • If you’re a constituent or affiliated with a particular organization, be sure to mention that.
  • Explain briefly why you’re calling, including the name or number of any bills or acts that you’re concerned about.

You can reach the capitol switchboard in Washington DC at (202) 244-3121.
For assembly members in California, call the Assembly Chief Clerk at (916) 445-3614.
For senators in California, call the Senate Secretary at (916) 445-4251.

Visiting in person

Sometimes, an in-person visit can carry more weight than a letter or phone call. Tips for in-person visits include:

  • Schedule the visit in advance. Legislators are often booked weeks or months out.
  • You will probably meet with a legislative staff aide; do not demand to meet with the legislator if he or she is not available.
  • Confirm any appointments you have by post, e-mail, or phone.
  • If you can visit in a larger group, this may give the representative the perception of having more clout.

Family caregivers need advocates like you

Even though advocacy can seem like one more thing to do in your already-busy day, as you can see above, it doesn’t take much at all. Anyone can write a letter or make a phone call, and these small acts can add up over time. If you feel you can take on a little more and make in-person visits (or similar activities), then do that too. No matter how large the task may seem, together, family caregivers can combine to advocate for the help and support they deserve.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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