Share the Care

Caroline Werner on the state of seniors and caregiving today.

With more than 77 million baby boomers turning 65 at a rate of 10,000 per day, the United States is experiencing historic growth in the 65-plus population. Communities are being pressed to think differently and more broadly about housing, transportation, social services, cultural offerings, and health and wellness programs.

Between May 10 and June 6, 2012, a nationally representative sample of 1,000 Americans ages 60 and older responded to the National Council on Aging’s “United States of Aging Survey.” For that, 2,250 telephone interviews were conducted with 250 respondents each in Dallas, TX; Orange County, CA; Miami, FL; Milwaukee, WI; and upstate New York.

While information on the respondents was divided into several categories, an LGBT category was not available. The survey reported that nationally, 43 percent of respondents prefer to be called “senior citizens” or “seniors.” The third preference was “retirees;” fourth, “older Americans;” and fifth, “aging Americans.”

Individual seniors were asked about their readiness for aging as well as their perceptions of their community’s resources. To access national population and full Milwaukee findings, visit ncoa.org/UnitedStatesofAging.

Here I will very briefly consider the responses from Milwaukeeans compared with national responses in the areas of caregiving, community resources, and support. The majority of Milwaukee data is similar to the overall national data on caregiving. As in Milwaukee, nationally seniors are providing long-term care as well as receiving it.

Nationally, more than half (Milwaukee, 43 percent) of seniors ages 70+ have someone they consider a caregiver. Nationally, 87 percent (Milwaukee, 83 percent) indicated that their caregiver is a family member. In Milwaukee, 24 percent of seniors are a caregiver to someone else.

In Milwaukee, 43 percent (45 percent nationally) of respondents who serve as a caregiver for someone else reported that they would benefit from additional support services like respite care. While 65 percent (61 percent nationally) of these caregivers are aware that there is a service in their community that they could call to request assistance with everyday needs, only 14 percent of these Milwaukee caregivers say they have used that service. Nationally, an additional 22 percent of seniors are unsure if such services exist in their communities.

When seniors ages 70 and above were asked about the quality of programming and events at senior or community centers in their community, 39 percent said they don’t visit enough to have an opinion.

In Milwaukee, 47 percent of seniors (56 percent nationally) believe that their community supports their ability to lead a happy and healthy life. A large majority of older Milwaukeeans give themselves high marks when it comes to maintaining their physical and mental health.

While nationally 56 percent of seniors are satisfied with the resources and services their community offers now, almost one quarter (23 percent) have little or no confidence that these resources will be available over the next five to 10 years.

Enter Madison’s OutReach LGBT Community Center, which has been increasing their programming for seniors with a lot of grant writing, several generous donations, and many hours of volunteer work over the last few years—despite the economic downturn. (Optimism sustains OutReach’s efforts to be available for our community.)

In the last year, a concern for LGBT caregivers and those LGBT seniors and others who need care after a hospitalization, or who have a terminal or chronic illness, has led to the formation of a “Share the Care” Station at OutReach. A steering committee of six LGBT health professionals is molding a program to fit our community’s needs. They have been diligently working to create a training program where volunteers will learn how “Share the Care” works and be trained to help others use the program effectively.

“Share the Care” is a proven system that can organize your family, friends, neighbors, faith community, co-workers—anyone you can imagine—into a network of support at a time in your life when you need it most. We can’t fix the healthcare system, but we can fix the patient-care system by putting “Share the Care” in place so no one has to go it alone.

This free program is based on a book entitled Share the Care: How to Organize a Group to Care for Someone Who is Seriously Ill. When the program starts in 2013, OutReach will be looking for volunteers who would like to be trained in this model. OutReach will also encourage people who want help forming their own “Share the Care” groups to contact OutReach.

Please check the OutReach e-newsletters to learn when this program becomes available in 2013. This is just one of many gifts that keep on giving through OutReach. To be added to the e-newsletter list, contact Angie at  angier@lgbtoutreach.org or call (608) 255-8582.

Our “families of choice” are important during the holiday season, as well as throughout the year. There’s a great deal of comfort in being around like-minded people who care for us emotionally and/or physically. This is especially important when national data on seniors still excludes us, even though we’re beginning to be recognized in census data.

Caroline Werner has a Master’s degree in Social Work and was a case manager working with seniors in Dane County before retiring. Now she is the Volunteer Senior Program Coordinator for OutReach.