Aging Caregivers - A Close Look at the Future

October 5, 2010

My knees are sagging. I noticed this today while bending over to stretch out the gnawing ache in my lower back. There they were, semicircular wrinkles- from my vantage point- frowning back at me. I suppose that if I’d look straight on at them in a mirror I could turn that frown upside down. But, no, I was hanging upside down and those knees were definitely headed south. When did that happen? Oh, Lord, I wonder what else has surrendered to the unrelenting pull of gravity. See, this is why we’re supposed to become far-sighted before the sagging and bagging gets too serious. Unfortunately, I’m near-sighted. I just don’t want to see the affects of time up close anymore. I don’t want baggy knees staring me in the face. Age should come with the luxury of having a choice about what you have to look at too closely.

Whether our age is staring us in the face, or whether some other evidence that the sneaky harbingers of old age have brushed up against some other part of us; we are assured that aging is inevitable. That point was clearly presented during a conference I attended last week. The conference was on the effects of aging on individuals with development disabilities and the effects of aging on caregivers. It is critical to recognize that each one has a significant impact on the other. The dearth of services to bridge the gap between the increasing needs of individuals with developmental disabilities and the decreasing ability to provide care of their caregivers is a rapidly growing concern. I learned that there are over 4.7 million people with developmental disabilities in our country and sixty percent of them live with their families. Sixty percent of those 2.8 million individuals are cared for by family caregivers over the age of forty. Twenty-five percent are over the age of sixty. Do the math – that is 705,000 individuals who, are or who will imminently be, in need of an alternative residential option, a place to live that will be safe, practical, and reflect the wishes of the family who can no longer be primary caregiver.

I go to meetings and conferences all of the time where new theories, strategies, and ideas are presented on how services should be provided   But the reality is, you can’t improve something that doesn’t exist. You don’t have to be a whiz at math to know that if your child’s number on the waiting list is four or more digits – their name is never going to get to the top of that list. No, before that ever happens they will be on a new list – one with emergency in the title.  But isn’t that an oxymoron – emergency waiting list?  Way too many aging caregivers have no choice, but to see much too clearly for comfort, that the future will be a scary place for their loved one.

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