By Kim Lamb Gregory
Monday, June 16, 2014
Within the next 10 years, every city in Ventura County will see its population of people 65 and older double, according to Andrea Gallagher, president of Conejo Valley Senior Concerns.
“Over 66 million people are now caregivers in the United states for somebody over age 50,” Gallagher said.
With these statistics comes a caregiving crisis that will strain families, businesses, health care and government agencies. So, Senior Concerns and the Greater Conejo Valley Chamber of Commerce hosted a problem-solving summit Monday at the Sheraton Agoura Hills in hopes of preparing for what Gallagher called a “family caregiver tsunami.”
The mayors and city managers from Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village were among the estimated 30 business and city leaders who gathered to brainstorm about ways to support and educate the Conejo Valley about what Gallagher called a silent social and economic epidemic.
Any adult at any time can be thrust into the role of family caregiver, usually for an aging relative. The average age of the caregiver is 48, and usually female.
You’ll hear the words “loved one” bandied about when addressing older relatives in need, but sometimes, an adult may find him or herself providing care for somebody who has been a pain to them for years.
“It can be complicated in that you may be caring for ex in-laws or an estranged parent,” Gallagher said.
If the older adult has not prepared financially for caregiving or health care needs, there may be economic consequences for the caregiver, who may also be trying to put a child through college, caring for a grandchild or simply trying to pay the bills.
Adults with caregiving responsibilities who are also trying to hold down full-time jobs find themselves stretched too thin. “Caregiving takes 20 extra hours a week on average,” Gallagher said. “Who has an extra 20 hours per week?”
Employers are feeling the pinch, with absenteeism, lost productivity, or valuable workers who leave or cut down their hours. There can be resentment and guilt piling onto the daily stress of caregiving. Sometimes, an older relative may suffer physical or emotional abuse. Neglect, purposeful or otherwise, is something Senior Concerns sees all too often, Gallagher said.
“We at Senior Concerns probably call Adult Protective Services three times a week,” Gallagher said.
Pepperdine University business professor Dr. Ed Rockey asked leaders at five tables to brainstorm solutions in five different areas of caregiving: education, engagement, support, awareness and planning.
More than one of the five groups came up with the idea of a smartphone application for family caregivers where they could access resources for financial, emotional, legal and practical help.
It also agreed there should be a single phone number to give an overwhelmed family caregiver a place to go for one-stop answers.
“We need real people answering the phone, not prompts,” said Westlake Village Mayor Mark Rutherford.
Los Robles Hospital & Medical Center spokesperson Kris Carraway-Bowman suggested classes on caregiving that are as detailed as prenatal classes.
“You know how our society welcomes being pregnant,” she said. “How can we embrace the caregiving, aging process?”
Gallagher suggested using Caregiver Awareness week in October as an opportunity to develop stickers people could wear for a day identifying themselves as family caregivers, not unlike the “I voted” stickers.
Gallagher then asked for and got volunteers who will follow up on all the suggestions.
By Kim Lamb Gregory