The statistics are startling--and challenging. Within 15 years, the number of Californians 65 and older will double. And by 2040 California's population older than 85 will increase by 625%.
Just in the Conejo Valley of Thousand Oaks, Newbury Park and Westlake Village, more than 17,000 residents are older than 65. Almost half of these people live with a chronic physical condition that limits their daily activities.
While life expectancies are being extended by miraculous advances in medical science, better nutrition and more sensible lifestyles, for many people the process of aging still carries the load of debilitating frailty, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, stroke and other ailments.
Historically, this has edged the frail elderly out of the mainstream of family and community life into a nether world of drifting and waiting. And, if they are not institutionalized, the burden of care falls heavily on the time and emotions of stressed family members. We're not taught how to be caregivers to our parents or spouses. One morning we wake up and we are one.
Seventy-eight percent of all caregivers are women; 40% of caregivers are employed and spend about 47 hours a week giving care, in addition to a 40-hour-a-week paid job.
American business loses $11 billion to $29 billion each year to its employees' need to take time off to care for aging family members.
That's why a nonprofit social service organization called Senior Concerns has been helping for the past 25 years. And why that largely privately funded volunteer agency has expanded its coverage throughout Ventura County and into western Los Angeles County, and taken on the huge challenge of enlarging both its physical facility and participant programs to help cope with the "aging wave" already upon us.
Senior Concerns operates the Fitzgerald Senior Day Support Center on Hodencamp Road in Thousand Oaks, which provides more than 10,000 person-days of care each year for the frail elderly and seniors with special needs.
Senior Concerns Meals on Wheels, the agency's inaugural service started in 1975, now delivers more than 36,000 nutritionally balanced hot lunches and light evening meals annually to homebound seniors.
Participants in Senior Concerns programs commonly pay for the services on a sliding scale determined by their financial ability to contribute. But no one is shut out of participation because they are unable to pay.
With the help from state government funding, Senior Concerns recently established Ventura County's first countywide Alzheimer's's day-care resource center to support people with memory impairment and their caregivers.
Senior Concerns support groups meet monthly to help caregivers discuss and resolve the needs and special problems involved in caring for the elderly.
The agency's professional Senior Advocates assist more than 3,000 seniors and their caregivers annually with personal help, providing information on Medicare, Social Security, housing, nursing, in-home assistance and other critically important senior issues not ordinarily available from a single source.
The primary objectives of Senior Concerns are to keep frail elderly and special-needs seniors personally independent and free from institutionalization as long as possible, and to provide respite time for caregivers. Senior Concerns' professional staff and hundreds of volunteers create and conduct quality-of-life programs that have enabled thousands of aging participants to live with dignity and a sense of belonging. Senior Concerns also builds strong support for the families who shoulder the daily responsibility of caring for an elderly relative.
Senior Concerns, a private-sector nonprofit agency, has been blessed over the past quarter century by the generous moral and financial support of private individuals, businesses, community organizations and the government. Senior Concerns' services are not duplicated locally by the government.
The day-care needs of the burgeoning senior population has the Fitzgerald Center operating today at capacity. And after a year of detailed study, Senior Concerns' volunteer board of directors has committed to virtually doubling the size of the 10-year-old facility. Included in the plans now in the city's permitting process are a new wing for Alzheimer's's care, a new wing for expanded social and crafts programs, a larger dining room and new patios, fountains and landscaping for therapeutic outdoor activities.
The cost of the expansion has been estimated at about $1.5 million, a sum necessarily separate from Senior Concerns' current-year operating budget of $800,000.
To fund the expansion and continue its services to all in need, Senior Concerns' board has appealed to the region's greatest resource, the amazing generosity of its citizens, individually and organizationally, who understand that sometimes it's hard to get older. With contributions beginning to flow in, Senior Concerns is pointing to breaking ground in 2001 and moving in to the expanded facility the following year.
Senior Concerns' board reflects on the saying: "Do not regret growing older. It's a privilege denied to many."
Senior Concerns will be there to help.