Caring for older adults: Local forum kicks off statewide discussion on elder policy
WILLMAR -- For some of the participants in a forum this week on aging, less red tape and better access to needed services would be a change for the better.
WILLMAR - For some of the participants in a forum this week on aging, less red tape and better access to needed services would be a change for the better.
Others wanted to see better rural models of caring for older adults and more community awareness and education about the issues that come with aging.
TakeAction Minnesota, a grassroots organization that works for public policy change, launched its latest initiative Tuesday in Willmar - a campaign to reshape how Minnesota approaches the twin issues of aging with dignity and supporting the caregivers of older adults. The effort will be carried out statewide.
“We’re trying to start a network of people talking about this,” said Jane Price, of TakeAction Minnesota. “We need to start this conversation.”
About 40 people showed up for a town hall meeting Tuesday, hosted by the health ministry of the Church of St. Mary, to help begin the process of identifying issues, concerns and potential solutions surrounding the graying of the population and its growing impact on the state.
There’s some urgency. Within 20 years, the number of Minnesotans older than 65 is projected to double to 1.4 million. Most will continue to live in their own homes, cared for by unpaid family members, neighbors and friends who will be called on to perform increasingly complex tasks.
“Minnesotans are living longer. That’s the good news,” said Art Price, who volunteers along with his wife, Jane, with TakeAction Minnesota’s senior caucus.
The bad news, said Price, is that longer lifespans also expose aging adults to chronic conditions and diseases that can disable them and reduce their quality of life as they grow older.
“We need to think about what it means to age,” he said.
In small-group discussions, forum participants took turns sharing their own experiences and concerns.
Some of the roundtable conversations got down to everyday details. In one group, there was frustration with grocery store policies that provide motorized scooters to shoppers - but don’t allow them to take the scooters into the parking lot so they can get their purchases to their vehicle. Others spoke of a shortage of services on weekends.
There was more: Difficulty knowing how to find the right services and where to start. A shortage of sustainable options allowing residents of small rural towns to age in place. A lack of advocates for older adults without family or other relatives nearby. Dilemmas for adult children who risk their own financial future if they retire early or switch to part-time work in order to care for an aging parent.
But there were also stories of success. One woman had family support while caring for her father through Alzheimer’s disease. “I did the pills and my sister did the bills,” she said. Because her father was prepared and had a health care directive spelling out his wishes, the experience was less difficult, she said.
There were calls for supporting professional caregivers with training, good pay and respect, and for recognizing the limits to what family caregivers can provide.
Elizabeth Lienisch, organizing director with TakeAction Minnesota in St. Paul, said one of the goals is to move the discussion from talk into action.
“What we’re doing is listening for what works and what doesn’t,” she said. “The more we talk about this, the clearer things are going to become about what the problems are and what the possible solutions are… This is really the beginning of the conversation, not the end.”
TakeAction Minnesota, whose list of other initiatives includes health care reform, the minimum wage and criminal justice reform, will continue collecting input and personal stories as it develops an agenda for policy change, the Prices said.
They urged members of the audience to share their experiences with legislators. “Citizen pressure does work,” Art Price said.
Patricia Radabaugh, a member of the health ministry at St. Mary’s who helped organize the forum, said afterwards that there was a diverse turnout for the event and good discussion.
The need to find ways of helping Minnesotans age with dignity is only going to increase, she said. “It’s time we take action and accomplish something.”