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State seeks input on issues facing older adults, caregivers
When Eileen Cooper's husband, Ray, was dying, she thought she could do it all — continue taking care of Ray and their home.
But her daughter knew it would be too much to handle. “Mom, you need help,” she told her mother and urged her to seek out hospice, Cooper recalled.
“I thought hospice was for the terminally ill. My husband didn't look like he was terminally ill. I had no idea he was that close.”
Ray died a few months later in 2007 at the age of 72.
After her experience, Cooper, a 72-year-old Yuma resident, believes she's in a good position to give feedback on the issues facing senior citizens and their caregivers.
She attended a focus group meeting held March 6 in Yuma. Attendees were asked to help identify issues affecting the quality of life and well-being of older adults and their caregivers.
The information gathered at the meetings, which are being held statewide by the Department of Economic Services, Division of Aging and Adult Services, will be used to help shape strategies and directions for the next Arizona State Plan on Aging for 2015-2018.
The topics discussed included access to information, sharing resources, locating support, future planning and major issues facing older adults.
David Best, a family caregiver programs specialist with the Division of Aging and Adult Services, noted that by the year 2020, one out of four Arizonans will be over the age of 60. The plan will help to ensure that Arizona has the necessary infrastructure to support the growing aging population.
Once it has been written, Best will go back on road to present the plan. The governor is expected to review and ultimately approve it in the spring of 2014.
There are more than 200 services for older adults and caregivers in Yuma County, but many don't know they are available.
“How do we do a better job of getting the word out to caregivers?” asked Best, who quit an earlier career to care for his parents and support other caregivers.
He agreed with Cooper that hospice is a great help. “Everywhere we go in Arizona, hospice is proving greater role.”
Attendees also mentioned faith-based programs, some of which have respite programs. Most learn of these services through word of mouth.
The trend has been and continues to be family caregiving, Best said.
“Do you find a large portion of seniors who need help are getting it from family? Eighty percent of care is provided for free by family members. That's the long-term care plan in Arizona. Nursing homes shouldn't be the choice of destination.”
In south Yuma County, noted Emma Torres, executive director of Campesinos Sin Fronteras, poverty has led to older adults helping their grown children, usually by taking care of grandchildren while their parents work.
“We used to take care of our elders. Now our elders are moving in with us to help us,” Torres said.
Many, especially in the Hispanic culture, are reluctant to ask for help or information. “People don't know how to ask for help,” Torres said, noting that respite is a “foreign” concept in the Hispanic culture.
Taking care of older adults is considered “an obligation.” In addition, some people are afraid that accessing public programs will put their immigration status at risk.
Best agreed, adding that generally, “Most caregivers don't say, ‘I need a break.' Usually it takes someone tapping on their shoulder.”
Among the other issues noted in the community is that some grandparents raising grandchildren qualify for public programs but don't know how to apply. Some older adults don't use computers so they have more difficulty finding resources; and the only opportunities some isolated seniors, often homebound veterans, have to get information are at doctor visits.
A concern is that home-delivered meals, often the only wellness checks for some elders, will be eliminated due to budget cuts. Another issue is transportation, since some older citizens cannot drive and there are limited services.
Affordable housing is often an issue as well. “Reverse mortgage is the only thing that got me through. I live on Social Security,” Cooper said.
However, Best cautioned that some reverse mortgages are actually scams and urged seniors to carefully research options.
For many, the major issues are money and the cost, availability and quality of health-care.
“How do we get people to take responsibility for their own finances and wellness? If something were to happen to us, who would take care of us?” Best asked.
When it comes to future planning, concepts that once considered “good,” such as paying off the house and debts and saving, do not always work.
“We see many seniors who lived that lifestyle but are still losing their homes to foreclosure,” Best said.
In addition, government programs are no longer guaranteed. “The Medicare my parents got, that's not what I'm going to get,” he said.
Also, some don't have advanced directives outlining their wishes in case of illness or death. Best noted that the attorney general's website has a simple one.
“It's not a big deal. You don't need a lawyer. You just need to write what you want,” Best said.
Adults age 60 and older are invited to complete the survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/agingstateplan.
For more information or to search for resources, go to www.AZlinks.gov.
Mara Knaub can be reached at email@example.com or 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.