A tsunami is coming and the community may not be prepared, according to Andrea Gallagher, president of Senior Concerns.
The organization, which supports seniors and their caregivers, met with Conejo Valley government, health and nonprofit agencies on Monday to talk about providing care for the elderly in the face of a looming crisis: The number of seniors in need is expected to double in 10 years.
“As a result of that (doubling), we’re all focused on the seniors,” said Gallagher, who led the meeting at the Sheraton Agoura Hills. “But one of the things we need to start focusing on is the caregivers, because without support for them, our senior population won’t thrive.”
At a value of about $577 billion, almost 66 million family caregivers provide 80 percent of all long-term care in the United States. That figure is expected to rise to 85 percent by 2050, Gallagher said.
Even if seniors preferred going to care facilities, there isn’t space for them, said bioethicist Viki Kind, a speaker at the event.
“We are going to have a big problem with the numbers increasing. We don’t have enough nursing homes. We don’t have enough assisted livings. We are going to be caring for our loved ones,” she said.
But who will care for the caregivers? Caregivers, Gallagher said, often don’t even identify themselves as such and even less often seek help in providing care for their loved ones.
Reasons can vary. Some caregivers might not have other family members to lean on. Some might not trust outsiders. For others, it’s a source of pride in caring for a loved one, while some simply don’t know where or how to get help, let alone how to pay for it.
But one thing’s certain: Caregiving takes a toll on the caregiver. According to Gallagher, 40 percent of those taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease—the top issue for family caregivers—will die before the Alzheimer’s patient.
Both Gallagher and Kind spoke of personal situations where they felt the toll taken by caregiving. It can come in the form of physical or mental health problems. Caregivers can feel resentment, social isolation, financial burdens, problems with taking time away from work and general stress, among other things, they said.
“The consequences are not just ‘I’m a little tired,’” Kind said. “Imagine those first three months (after) having a baby—how much effort and exhaustion that was. Now imagine that long-term. . . . Babies usually grow up and become more and more independent. Seniors only become more dependent.”
Finding help for caregivers is a daunting task.
“I think the really challenging thing is every situation is different,” said Mary Jarvis of Kaiser during a roundtable portion of the event. “How do you come up with one solution?”
While it isn’t likely that a cureall solution exists, Gallagher said, she hopes to organize a team of volunteers who will look at different ideas for helping caregivers and put them into effect.
“We see families come into Senior Concerns every day (with problems) . . . and sometimes we have to tell them we don’t have an answer,” she said.
Gallagher said that by this time next year, with her team of volunteers, she hopes they’ll be able to provide some answers more often than not.

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