Serving Our Seniors Memory Care EXPERT ANSWERS: Elderly Care Q&A Eldercare & Your Employees What’s the FMLA? EXPERT ANSWERS: Home Care Industry Q&A March MBJ - Home
Age may just be a number, but the numbers associated with our country’s aging population point to the increasing need for the eldercare industry. Here’s how the sector stacks up in the River Region.
Central Alabama Aging Consortium (CAAC) is the Area Agency on Aging for Autauga, Elmore and Montgomery counties and was created in 1975 by the local government officials to provide Older Americans Act services to the 60-plus population. Later, those with disabilities were added under its umbrella. CAAC administers multiple state services, including the Elderly Nutrition Program, Aging Disability Resource Center, State Health Insurance Counseling Program, SenioRx Medication Assistance Program and more. The organization also contracts to provide legal services and recently received an Alzheimer’s Disease Project Initiative grant to provide services to individuals with dementia, including those with intellectual disabilities, and their caregivers. Learn more at centralalabamaaging.org.
As the Baby Boomer generation ages (8,000 to 10,000 reach retirement age every day), the demand for eldercare services is on the rise across the country. According to Stephanie Vaught with the Alabama Department of Senior Services, data from the U.S. Census Bureau estimate that one in five Alabamians will be over the age of 65 by 2030, and by 2035, seniors will outnumber children younger than 18. Not only is our senior population growing, thanks to continual medical and wellness advancements, it will live longer too.
But those extra golden years often include more complex and chronic healthcare issues. In the state and right here in the River Region, the increasing needs of older adults means the local eldercare industry is also increasing in size, scope and importance, as Susan Segrest, Executive Director of the Central Alabama Aging Consortium, explained. “The demand is growing,” she said. “Often, children have moved out of the state, and the elderly are left with no close family members to assist them.”
Currently, there are 14 skilled nursing facilities, 15 assisted living facilities and eight specialty care assisted living facilities in the River Region. Segrest also noted the options for home care services, which is proving a popular choice among today’s seniors, marking a shift in the industry. “The needs and expectations of the Baby Boomer generation differ from the older senior citizens,” she said. “In general, people want to remain in their homes, or at least in a community setting.” Her agency has expertise and resources to help people do just that.
Segrest also noted a few gaps in meeting the needs of seniors with limited financial resources. “Affordable housing can be a challenge,” she said. “Also, sometimes, the homes of the elderly are older homes in need of repair, and the cost of the needed repairs is cost-prohibitive for the senior citizen.”
As the eldercare industry faces these changes as well as challenges like workforce shortages, the multi faced services it provides remain a necessity. We asked two local industry experts to shed some light on where the industry is and where it’s headed.
At what point would you advise those caring for a senior loved one to look into the services of a memory care facility?
As we are all unique in our own way, and as there are no two cases of dementia that are alike, the determining factor of when to transition into memory care assisted living varies. For some individuals, it is the inability to manage the day-to-day care of their loved one who is struggling with memory loss concerns such as wandering or how to perform simple tasks; for some, it is the inability to manage the activities of daily living such as bathing, toileting, dressing and grooming; for others, it is the financial strain of not being able to afford in-home care. Our community supports both the resident in need of assisted memory care and the family. - Ginger Fletcher, Executive Director, Haven Memory Care
LOCAL RESOURCE: Haven Memory Care on Halcyon has a full-time nursing staff and offers 24/7 access to nursing care. Every staff member is trained in dementia care best practices, using tools developed by the Alzheimer’s Association, the National Council of Certified Dementia Practitioners and other professional organizations.
Good to Know: “I think one of the biggest issues we run into is the general understanding of what home care does versus home health and hospice care. Many times, people think we are all the same thing, but we all have service offerings that complement each other but seldom overlap. Home health is ordered by a physician and is skilled nursing care, usually comprised of a certain number of visits from a nurse, physical therapist, occupational therapist or speech therapist. Hospice is also ordered by a physician and provides comfort care to a patient with advanced illness. Home care provides home health and personal care aids to assist with activities of daily living. They assist clients with personal tasks such as bathing or dressing, and they perform housekeeping, such as laundry, washing dishes and vacuuming. They also arrange for or provide transportation to doctor appointments, prepare meals to meet a client’s dietary specifications and keep clients engaged in their social networks.” – Scott Slocum, SYNERGY HomeCare
How has the eldercare industry changed in the last few decades? New categories of healthcare communities have developed, including assisted living and memory care communities. The public has become more educated on the different kinds and levels of care for seniors. Also, the number of assisted living and memory care communities has expanded and continues to expand. There are new developments continuing to grow throughout Alabama.
What changes are happening now? Right now, healthcare communities are still addressing the COVID virus and keeping their residents, patients and staff as safe as possible. Although much has been learned by all of the communities throughout this, the struggle is staying ahead of the transmission via testing, contact tracing and sanitation efforts in our communities.
As demand for eldercare and senior services increases, is our area prepared to meet it? The demand for senior services is definitely increasing because of rapid growth in the number of seniors throughout our region, state and the country. Presently, the River Region has been able to address seniors’ needs as it relates to healthcare providers. However, as the aging population grows, we must be vigilant in meeting demand with a variety of services.
How is technology affecting the industry? Technology is changing the industry. Some of the many changes include electronic medical records, resident-patient call systems, methods that senior care communities use to facilitate communication between residents and family members and the safety and security measures in use by communities.
What are the challenges facing our seniors and the eldercare industry? There are many. Just a few are the increasing costs of healthcare options, especially in the private-pay market, which includes assisted living, memory care facilities and home care services. Another is addressing the COVID-19 virus issues in our communities and our efforts to keep our residents and staff safe. A related issue is the cost associated with all the COVID-19 safety measures. And finally, we are dealing with the challenge of recruiting, employing and retaining qualified staff.
Is long-term care insurance something you recommend? Long-term care insurance is an option for future planning purposes to address the financial costs of senior care. Although there are fewer companies now offering these policies, they are still good options because they help supplement the cost of care in nursing homes, assisted living and memory care communities.
How can employers help their employees dealing with eldercare? Due to the increasing number of employees who are today caring for a senior loved one, employers must be conscious of their employees’ struggles. One way to do that and to help is to allow for flexibility in their work schedule when needed.
What’s your advice on choosing the right retirement community? Talk to residents at the communities you visit and talk to their families. Check the Alabama Department of Health website for deficiency reports on facilities and communities; these reports are made available to the public on all nursing homes, assisted living and memory care communities. Also, check out the communities’ Facebook pages. Once you make a decision, be active in visiting your loved one. Develop a rapport with facility and community staff so you can stay in good communication. Ask questions as soon as any issues arise.
TOP QUESTION: What’s your advice on choosing the right care option for a loved one? Get educated on senior healthcare options before you need them, whether it is keeping a relative at home or learning more about assisted living or memory care or nursing home options. Use the internet. Ask questions. Visit facilities and communities. And again, ask questions. In addition, the Central Alabama Aging Consortium is a great resource and has information and answers on a full array of senior services in our area.
As the demand for eldercare services rises, so too does the understanding that caring for a senior loved one is not just a personal issue. According to a recent article by The Society for Human Resource Management, one in six Americans offers caregiving to a loved one or friend, and this number is expected to increase in the coming years. That means the challenges surrounding eldercare affect more than the caregiver and the cared for. This issue affects businesses of all sizes and in all sectors too.
How Eldercare Impacts Your Business Any of your employees who are also caregivers for an elderly person (or people) are shouldering the weight of multiple responsibilities, and this can lead them to disengage, at least in part, from their duties to your business. A survey conducted by Homethrive (an eldercare company) found that 43 percent of working caregivers reported feeling “distracted, worried, or focused on caregiving” instead of being focused on their jobs. In the same survey, almost 80 percent of its participants said their employer had not communicated any information about eldercare benefits or support that was available.
Why You Should Help Helping your employees who are dealing with eldercare is more than a nice thing to do: It also pays off for your business. For example, while they are not only related to eldercare, flexible, customized work schedules are particularly helpful to caregivers who need to transport a parent to medical appointments or treatments. Allowing employees this “flex time” has been proven to increase their productivity and reduce the number of absences.
Providing options like flex time and other forms of assistance also create a caring environment in the workplace. When employees feel their voices are heard and their needs are addressed, they become more engaged in their work and more connected to the company’s success. This can lead to increased retention of valuable team members and generate the positive word of mouth that gives businesses an advantage when recruiting new talent.
And, the stress of caregiving can take a toll on employees’ health, so by being proactive and helping reduce that stress, you could save on your company’s healthcare costs.
How You Can Help According to a 2021 study done by AARP, the pandemic-driven work-at-home trend made things a bit easier for some caregivers, but then, the return to the office was doubly stressful as they worried about bringing COVID home to their elderly, vulnerable relative. This information only underscores the need for employers to step in. Some large companies are treating eldercare like childcare, subsidizing eldercare costs and even providing eldercare facilities onsite. While these actions may not be suitable for many smaller businesses, there are still steps any business can take.
- Educate yourself and your supervisors, HR department, etc. on provisions of the Family Medical Leave Act, and then help employees navigate it and offer assistance with filling out forms, etc.
- Consider offering more flexibility in the number of hours worked and the time the hours are worked (i.e, 40 hours a week but over three to four days instead of five).
- Consider offering work-from-home options. Try a hybrid approach with some hours in the office and some at home.
- If your company has multiple caregivers, consider helping them start a support group and offer use of company space.
- Organize seminars or workshops providing access to experts who can give advice on estate planning, long-term care insurance, assisted living and home healthcare.
The FMLA is the Family Medical Leave Act, which entitles eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. There are multiple situations eligible for the provisions of FMLA, including caring for a parent with a serious health condition. Learn more at dol.gov.
Can you outline the size of the home care industry? The home care industry has seen sustained growth and popularity over the last two decades. As more Baby Boomers retire and life expectancy has increased, more seniors prefer to remain in their own homes where they are comfortable and have an established social network. Nationally, it is a $100-billion-a-year market, and it is estimated that more than 15 million seniors receive homecare services, with more than 600 million visits made to their homes each year.
What changes are happening now in the home care industry? COVID-19 has caused many seniors to pause and consider where and how they want to spend their golden years. Most seniors prefer to age in place, in their own homes. The healthcare industry, insurance industry and the government have acknowledged the value and affordability of home care services as an option to in-patient treatment, such as skilled nursing facilities. We will also see more expanded access of home care services through certain Medicare advantage plans.
As demand for eldercare services increases, is our area adequately meeting the demand? Regionally, there are currently many options for seniors to choose from for eldercare services. Over the next several years, the growing geriatric population and rising incidence of diseases such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, and orthopedic diseases could overwhelm our current existing healthcare system.
How is technology affecting the industry? There have been many advancements in the use and acceptance of technology, specifically over the last 18 months. Examples are the increased use of telemedicine and remote patient monitoring as a safe, efficient way for healthcare workers to capture information about a person’s lifestyle, behavior, blood pressure, weight and environment without an office visit. The expectation is that these types of services will expand and continue to grow in the coming years.
Are there challenges facing our seniors and the eldercare industry? The demand for home care and eldercare services is growing rapidly. The related challenge to this is a shortage of caregivers to meet this demand. The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there were 3,470,700 home health and personal care aids employed in 2020. They expect the need to grow by 33 percent in this decade. That is an addition of 1,129,900 home health and personal care aid jobs in the next eight years to meet the needs of our aging population.
What impact do you see caring for a senior loved one having on family members? The impact can be a blessing but too often, it becomes a very stressful situation for a loved one and can have an impact both emotionally and financially. When a loved one needs assistance, it usually requires a family member to take time off work and time away from their immediate family, which can cause high levels of anxiety, depression and be financially burdensome.
How can employers help their employees dealing with eldercare? There are many companies that offer their employees great benefits such as back-up-care for their children and/or an elderly parent. What we tend to see is that most employees just don’t understand how those benefits work and how to use them appropriately and therefore do not take advantage of them. I would recommend employers who offer back-up-care benefits to their employees to make sure their employees know it is available to them and ensure a benefit administrator is available to assist them.
What’s your advice on choosing the right care option for a senior loved one? I would highly recommend the families start that conversation about their care expectations early; find out what your parents’ wishes are and establish a plan together to include financial and medical power of attorney, a will and advanced directives. This might be a hard discussion to have as a family, but having everyone on the same page about a parent’s care and their wishes is a much better and less stressful option than having to figure it out after a catastrophic medical event.
TOP QUESTION: Is long-term care insurance something you recommend? Yes. We have many clients who took advantage of obtaining a policy during their employment. This has allowed them to obtain help with their activities of daily living with little-to-no out-of-pocket cost. This allows our clients to live independently. These policies also relieve the stress of family members who would have to take off work or take time away from their own spouse and children to care for an aging parent.