Heather Garner can't begin to imagine what her life would be like if she were a full-time student. As a full-time caregiver for her husband, Garner's life is tough enough just a few weeks every year when she must travel across New York state to take a series of continuing education classes to remain a certified assessor, yet somehow still provide caregiving for her husband, Mike.
Mike almost died four years ago when he became ill with pancreatitis and was in a coma for weeks. At age 45, he has no spleen and faces potentially life-threatening issues on a daily basis. His medical debt exceeds $500,000. Heather, 43, acts as his full-time caregiver even as she works a full-time job as an assessor and must take continuing education classes to keep her assessor's license. Since they can't afford to pay a caregiver, she brings her husband along on these mandatory training trips. Mike may sit in the car for hours while Heather's in class — and they hope that no medical emergency comes up during that time.
Get instant access to members-only products and hundreds of discounts, a free second membership, and a subscription to AARP the Magazine.
"If only there were waivers for people like me,” says Heather. If her licensing requirements could be modified to taking classes every other year, for example, that could make their lives so much easier, she says.
Complex world of student caregivers
Welcome to the often uncomfortable, unpredictable and — for most of us — unimaginable world of student caregiving. Some 5 million adult students attending colleges, universities or trade schools also are caregivers of adults — typically their parents or grandparents — and while most of these student caregivers need resources and flexibility, only a fraction of them receive any, according to a landmark AARP 2020 student caregiving study of 400 adults completed in June. These student caregivers — many of whom also work at least part-time — must balance the complexities of significant academic demands with work requirements and unpredictable caregiving duties
"Most universities don't even think that students have caregiving responsibilities,” says Dana Burr Bradley, dean of the Erickson School of Aging Studies at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. “It wouldn't even be in their mindset."
Changing that mindset is critical, according to the report, because the well-being of millions of adult student caregivers — and their loved ones — is at stake.
Emotional strain and missed deadlines
The numbers are staggering.