Family caregivers for aging loved ones face gaps in resources and support even as the number of elderly Americans continues to grow.
That was the message to more than 100 caregivers at the 12th annual Washington County Family Caregivers Conference Friday at Tuality Health Education Center in Hillsboro. Tuality co-sponsored the conference with Washington County Disability, Aging and Veteran Services.
U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon, whose 1st Congressional District includes Washington County, said by 2040 older Americans are expected to make up more than 20 percent of the population. An AARP report released this year, “Caregiving in the United States 2015,” said 43.5 million Americans have provided unpaid family care, the majority of them while employed, she said.
To address caregivers’ needs, her legislative goals include the re-establishment of the Select Commission on Aging, which advised Congress; the passage of the RAISE Family Caregivers Act, which calls for a national family caregiving strategy and advisory council; and the reauthorization of the 50-year-old Older Americans Act, which funds social and nutrition services such as Meals on Wheels.
Bonamici added that the AARP has estimated the economic value of family caregiving at $470 billion. “You’re underpaid,” she said to the appreciative, standing-room-only audience.
The congresswoman noted that the issue hits home for her: Her mother and stepfather, who live in Raleigh Hills, are 87. Bonamici is 61, part of a segment of the population that has grown by 25 percent over the last decade, she said.
The conference also attracted organizations that assist caregivers, such as Senior Health Insurance Benefits Assistance, whose counselors provide help with selecting Medicare plans; Oregon Care Partners, which offers free in-person and online classes for family caregivers; and Powerful Tools for Caregivers, a 6-week educational series with classes coming up in Beaverton, Hillsboro and Tualatin.
The Alzheimer’s Association had a table, as did the Social Security Administration and care providers such as Providence ElderPlace, Home Instead Senior Care and Visiting Angels Living Assistance Services. Tuality Healthcare Library put out books about caregiving.
Kevin Roebke was there, too, representing the Oregon Public Utility Commission’s Residential Service Protection Fund, which assists low-income seniors and people with disabilities. For instance, Oregonians who qualify can receive a discount on their home phone service or a free cell phone with 250 minutes a month, Roebke said.
The fund also started a program this summer that distributes iPads to those who qualify – about 100 iPads have gone out since the second week of August, Roebke said.
Nearby, Chuck Niggley of Beaverton, 76, stood ready to hand out business cards identifying him as the volunteer facilitator of a monthly support group in Tigard for men who care for loved ones with Parkinson’s disease. Niggley’s wife, Patsy, 75, has Parkinson’s.
Niggley said Friday’s conference was his fourth. His caregiving responsibilities include cooking for his wife, communicating with her doctors, managing the couple’s finances with the goal of keeping his wife at home, and arranging for an aide to help her.
The NASA retiree joked: “I wish I was employed so I had some free time.”
— Amy Wang