Mae Carpenter is panelist at program on long-term care services and supports
More funds and programs are needed immediately to help family caregivers provide for the aging population because the situation is critical, Commissioner Mae Carpenter of Westchester County’s Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS) told Congressional staff members earlier this week at a panel in Washington, D.C.
During a session in the Senate Dirksen Office Building on “Innovation and Progress in Long-Term Services and Supports” sponsored by AARP and The Hill, a daily newspaper in the nation’s capital, Carpenter described what the county has done to meet this serious need and what more must be done.
Carpenter was invited to appear before the group due to her national reputation as one of the most knowledgeable and innovative advocates on behalf of seniors in the country.
According to Carpenter, the need for more caregivers is dire – and increasing – in Westchester, where one in five people (20 percent) are 60 or over and almost 15 percent are 65 or older.
However, as she noted in her remarks, there is often no family caregiver available to help with aging or disabled relatives, as many women work full time and many adult children have moved away. Those that do care for their loved ones are under enormous stress and quickly become overwhelmed and burned out.
As a result, volunteers, neighbors and the seniors themselves must help care for each other.
Carpenter told the Congressional staff that DSPS, in conjunction with the Westchester Public/Private Partnership for Aging Services, has developed two initiatives specifically for caregivers that are helping to ease their burden and better face their challenges. The programs, both part of the department’s Livable Communities Initiative, are low-cost because they primarily work through volunteers and are already being replicated in other parts of the country. They are:
· The Caregiver Coach program, where volunteers are trained by professionals to provide one-on-one support to family caregivers to help them understand what options they have.
· The Care Circles of Westchester: Step Forward and Give Back program, with circles of people who volunteer to share caregiving tasks of daily living for an older person in the community that cannot be met with public funds. The idea is to create the physical and emotional support families traditionally provide that seniors are able to continue to live in their homes.
Carpenter, who speaks around the country on caregiver issues, has long maintained that these initiatives are essential. She frequently cites a report from AARP’s Public Policy Institute, which said that because the number of family caregivers will drop considerably in coming years, more people will be dependent on fewer caregivers.
The report said that at the end of 2010, there were 7.2 potential caregivers age 45 to 64 for every person 80 and older. And over the next two decades as the baby boomers become the population that will need caregivers, the pool of potential caregivers drops to 4.1 people for every 80-plus person.
Carpenter also maintains that society must realize the enormous dollar value of the work family caregivers provide. She said that AARP estimates that every year since 2009, 62 million family caregivers nationwide have provided the equivalent of $450 billion in paid work.
“We need more options to support family caregivers,” she said.
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