TAKING CARE OF MOM AND DAD, Pt. 4:
Finding the middle ground
By ANDREA GILLHOOLLEY Staff Writer Lebanon Daily News
Judy Coffen was worried for her 84-year-old mother, who was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Lebanon woman is retired and had been taking care of her mother, Pauline Martin, for over a year. But like many people in her shoes, the daily tasks to ensure her mother’s safety and health were becoming overwhelming.
Perhaps above all, learning to communicate without leaving in tears became the biggest challenge. “I was really getting stressed and I was really just down and out,” Coffen said. “She used to never want to do anything. She sat around all the time – she never wanted to go anywhere.”
Then, Coffen found out about Albright LIFE Center in Lebanon, which provides care to clients who can utilize the adult daycare services, but also receive care to allow them to remain living in their own homes.
“Since she started at Albright – she never had the Christmas spirit, and now she really has that back,” Coffen said. “She’s made friends. Albright is helping me learn to communicate with my mother in a helpful and respectful manner. It’s great now because she is really wanting to do more things that she has to do.”
The shift away from institutionalized care has been growing since the 1980s. The percentage of people over 75 in nursing homes fell from 9.6 percent in 1985 to 6.4 percent in 2004, according to the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Local officials say more people are exploring other options that range from supervised adult daycare to assisted living.
The need for these services will increase in the years ahead. The percentage of older adults in the U.S. population is growing faster than at any other time in history and will double thanks to longer life spans and the sheer number of baby boomers.
The number of people over 65 is expected to increase 2.3 percent each year, and by 2030 there will be 71 million Americans – that’s 20 percent of the U.S. population – who are 65 or older.
However, the number of family members available to care for them will increase at a rate of only .08 percent, according to the National Family Caregivers Association. And because baby boomers are more technologically savvy than their parents, the demand for more choices of care will continue to grow.
“It’s not clear that as we continue to extend life that we’ll have the same parallel quality of life,” said Kerrie Smedley, associate professor of psychology at Lebanon Valley College. “The dependency may happen later, but it may be longer. The other part is that people are working longer and children are less likely to be able to care for their parents in a full-time capacity, especially women who do the majority of caregiving.”
The concept of assisted care will likely expand because of that projection.
“It won’t be a choice between staying home being taken care of by family members, or nursing homes,” Smedley said. “There will be an expansion of in-between services.”
Albright LIFE Center in Lebanon opened for business in November as a response to a growing need for those “in-between services.”
“There’s always a need for nursing homes. In this county, we are fortunate with the nursing homes we have,” said Robert Rakow, executive director of Albright LIFE Center in Lebanon. “But, on the other hand, there is a group who are in nursing homes because we don’t have a system in place to pick them up where they could go and live at home if they were able to receive services, similar to what this program offers.”
Rakow became a caregiver himself to his aging mother.
“I naturally assumed – my siblings did as well – that we can manage and take care of her. Fortunately for me, we were able to work it out that we could alternate. But, as her care needs changed, we were not trained and had no idea of what was required,” he said. “Things like transferring her from a chair to a tub, monitoring her medications, feeding … if you’re working, it develops into a 24-hour type of care and the situation becomes exhausting.”
Utilizing services like those offered at Albright allows the caregiver to remain heavily involved, but also can provide piece of mind to clients like Coffen who need the assistance.
Lebanon County has 29,000 residents over the age of 60. Many of them are low-income. They rely heavily on the services provided by the Lebanon County Area Agency on Aging.
Mike Kristovensky, director of the Lebanon County Area Agency on Aging, said the agency has a $3.2 million yearly budget for operating costs, staffing and 27 programs.
Lebanon County may have a smaller waiting list of seniors for various programs compared to other, larger counties, however the projected increase of seniors concerns Kristovensky.
“We could serve more people if we had the money,” he said. “The demand is certainly there. If we’re not seeing our revenue increase, how will we take care of the influx of people?”
Kristovensky said the state would like to see growth in adult daycares and personal care aids, but daytime group settings such as Eldercare are even more economical than nursing homes or hiring in-home help.
There are some changes under way, however, to help family caregivers.
The Pennsylvania House and Senate passed legislation that made changes to the state’s Family Caregiver Support Program that is administered by local Area Agencies on Aging.
The bill, which is funded exclusively with state lottery dollars and federal monies, increases stipends from $200 to $500 for the program that reimburses eligible families for out-of-pocket expenses relating to caring for an older adult at home.The program had restrictive eligibility requirements, which led to more than $1 million of lottery funds allocated to the program going unspent in fiscal year 2009-10.