Growing older can be sweet, but also tough. Frank Lloyd Wright said, "The longer I live, the more beautiful life becomes." I heard a presentation that in this year, 2016, somewhere a person is being born who will live to be 160 years old. In our neck of the woods, our northern Nevada population of older adults in increasing rapidly and with that change comes challenges for the quality of life.
In Washoe County, there are 91,124 residents over the age of 60, making up 20 percent of the county's total population. Within that number are an increasing number of people in their 70s, 80s, 90s, and yes, over 100-years-old. Right now there about 60,000 people over age 100 in the United States, so there is a new term "supercentenarians" for the next group… those living over 110 years old.
Earlier this year the board members at the Community Foundation of Western Nevada received a proposal from Grady Tarbutton, recently retired Director of Washoe County Senior Services. That proposal informed the Community Foundation of the large number of unpaid family caregivers in Washoe County. It outlined the need to help caregivers find the support and services they should have to help care for their family member. That proposal resonated with the board and staff, and led to the Community Foundation adopting the "Family Caregiver Support Network" as a new community initiative. We recognize this need is not one that is often spoken about, but is one that is, or will, affect virtually every one of us. Are you a caregiver?
According to the 2013 survey of Washoe County Seniors, 9 percent of those ages 60 and over serve as an unpaid family caregiver by assisting with bathing, dressing, toileting, medication administration, and other personal needs. Based on this study, approximately 8,200 seniors serve as an unpaid caregiver to a loved one. While many seniors provide care to other seniors, younger family members also are caregivers. Washoe County Senior Services identified that family caregivers to seniors are diverse in age and employment status. The ages of family caregivers range from 18 – 80- years-old.
If you are a caregiver, you know the challenges and rewards that come with the territory. Caregivers often face significant social isolation, stress, and fatigue. It is overwhelming to find, understand, and manage the complex array of services that facilitate senior care in the home. More specifically, the top needs of family caregivers typically include education and training, peer support, respite care, workforce needs, and prescription management. Some family caregivers are forced to leave their job to care for their family member. About onethird of caregivers who provide assistance to a loved one between 60 and 69-years-old report needing financial support, housekeeping help, and emotional care.
Within the field of family caregiving, women typically face more challenges. The majority of people over age 60 are women; additionally, two out of three family caregivers are women. Women usually live longer than men and often outlive their husbands. According to a Metlife Study, women face a variety of challenges with their career due to becoming a caregiver:
Helping family caregivers is a critical challenge that also presents the community with a great opportunity for significant impact. The Washoe County Master Plan for Aging Services cited Washoe County as one of the fastest aging communities in the United States. At a state level, Nevada is projected to be the third fastest aging state by 2050. The Family Caregiver Support Network will strengthen our community by identifying and helping develop information, educational resources, and other forms of support to reduce the stress of caregiving and improve the quality of care and the quality of life of dependent seniors.
During the next few months, the Community Foundation will be forming an Initiative Steering Committee and conduct convenings with service providers, elected officials, opinion leaders, business leaders, funders, and other stakeholders. Our most valued participants, the ones we need to hear from, will be unpaid caregivers for a family member or friend. We will learn what their needs are and what we can do to help. Abraham Lincoln famously said "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count. It's the life in your years." Our hope is that this initiative helps to ease the burdens of selfless caregivers and adds quality of life to our years.
Caregivers are under appreciated and under supported in our community. With our aging population, there will be a need for many more of us to step up and become caregivers for a family member or friends. Let's work together to make their life, and the life of those they care for, sweeter.
This initiative is a shining example of the way the Community Foundation of Western Nevada works to bring about positive, sustainable impact and change to our region.
Are you a caregiver? Do have wisdom learned from experience or a profession you can share? If you would like to join the Community Foundation in our work on this initiative, please contact Nick Tscheekar, Initiatives Director at 775-333-5499. Helping our community's caregivers is an "all hands on deck" process. Your help is needed and appreciated.