by Jewish Family Service -
Special to the SGN
It is sometimes referred to as 'the graying of America.' It is a demographic revolution that is transforming the nation. At the turn of the 20th century (1900) only 4% of our citizens were aged 65 or above. By 2000, this had risen to 12% - and by 2030, it is projected that fully one in five will fall into that age category. The good news is that more of us are living longer. Along with those extra years, however, comes the challenge of caring for substantially more individuals who will need support and assistance as they age.
For LGBTQ elders, in particular, this can be a frightening time. While most retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes have nondiscrimination policies, the reality for members of the sexual minority community can be very different. The majority of residents in these facilities are members of the so-called 'Silent Generation,' born between 1925 and 1945. They, and the surviving members of the even older 'Greatest Generation,' often hold more traditional views about sexuality and may not openly welcome LGBTQ neighbors. In addition, a large number of service workers in care facilities are immigrants, and many of these employees, while dedicated and hard-working, come from cultural or religious backgrounds that continue to stigmatize sexual minorities. As a result, a significant percentage of LGBTQ elders find themselves returning to the closet in the final years and months of their lives.
Of course, the majority of older adults, regardless of sexual orientation, choose to remain in their homes for as long as they are able - a phenomenon known as 'aging in place.' Polls indicate that up to 90% of all elders wish to age in place, and roughly two-thirds succeed in doing so (that is, they live out their lives in the same place where they celebrate their 65th birthday). But most of those remaining at home will also, at some point, need assistance. Here, too, LGBTQ elders face special challenges. Many in the Silent Generation were alienated from their birth families, and may not have children of their own. As a consequence, they often lack the natural circle of support that gathers around other older adults as they become increasingly frail. LGBTQ elders often rely exclusively on partners and friends who may themselves have age-related disabilities.
CARING FOR CAREGIVERS
Fortunately, help is available. Jewish Family Service, located at 16th Avenue and East Pine Street on Capitol Hill, offers a program known as Family Caregiver Support (FCS). This program, funded by federal and state government, provides an array of support services at no cost to individuals who are providing care and assistance to other adults. Jewish Family Service is engaged in a special outreach to the LGBTQ community during the month of February. Services available through Family Caregiver Support include:
o Financial assistance in purchasing goods and services related to caregiving. Eligible individuals may receive up to $1,000 annually in aid, and in certain cases may qualify for even more.
o Counseling. Caring for a loved one with an illness or a disability can be very rewarding, but it can also be extremely stressful. Short-term counseling is available for many FCS participants, and can be offered in the caregiver's own home.
o Housekeeping and errands. For those involved in caregiving, simply keeping up with day-to-day chores - maintaining one's house or apartment, and shopping for groceries - can be overwhelming. Qualified individuals may receive up to 12 hours per month of assistance with these tasks.
o Professional consultation. Participants may request a consultation with a knowledgeable expert in any area related to caregiving. Consultants may be nurses, social workers, physical therapists, etc.
o Education in providing care. Periodic courses, averaging 10 weeks in duration, are offered for individuals who unexpectedly find themselves in a caregiving role. Topics range from body mechanics (e.g., how to assist someone in bathing or transferring without injuring yourself) to self-care.
o Support groups. There is often no substitute for sharing your concerns and your experiences with someone who has been through the same situation. A variety of support groups, many of which focus on particular conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, are available for FCS participants.
o Respite care. For those living with the care recipient and providing a substantial amount of support, short-term respite care may be available. Respite providers will generally be certified nursing assistants or certified home care aides.
o Ongoing access to information and referral. Every person enrolling in FCS will be given the name and telephone number of a 'care consultant.' They will be able to telephone this individual, a professional in the aging field, whenever they have a question or need referral to another agency or organization.
The Family Caregiver Support program is open to any qualified applicant residing in King County. However, Jewish Family Service has prioritized services to the LGBTQ community as well as to Russian-speaking and African-American seniors. All three groups are underserved, or have specific needs that have not been fully met.
PARTNERED WITH GAY CITY
'We are very committed to working with each of these groups in a culturally competent and sensitive way,' said Stephen Uy, a community liaison specialist at Jewish Family Service. 'That's why we have partnered with Gay City Health Project to help us get the word out about this program.'
The word 'family' in the name of the program is a bit misleading, Uy noted. Eligible caregivers need not be related to the care recipient, nor do they need to reside in the same home. Friends and neighbors, as well as spouses, partners, and children, can receive support at no cost through FCS. There are, however, two important disqualifiers. First, the care recipient may not be receiving COPES services and, if he or she resides in a care facility, may not have long-term care services paid for by Medicaid. Second, the caregiver may not be receiving compensation for the services he or she provides.
Family Caregiver Support was formally launched in September 2011, and has enrolled more than 240 individuals to date. The agency also offers, on a fee basis, non-medical home care and home health services through HomeCare Associates, a division of JFS. Uy sees FCS as a natural complement to these other programs. 'Most home care agencies are there to serve the patient or client,' he observed, 'but through FCS we can offer support to the partner or spouse as well.'
Jewish Family Service is one of nine nonprofit organizations providing such services in King County through a contract with the City of Seattle's Human Services Department. Some of the agencies serve specific populations, such as the Chinese Information and Service Center, or a particular geographical area, such as the North Shore Senior Center.
A CRITICAL NEED
The importance of this new initiative was underscored by Don Armstrong, director of home care and community-based services at Jewish Family Service. 'Forty-four million Americans provide unpaid assistance to loved ones who are ill, or who have disabilities,' he said. 'Yet they are often isolated and feel that they are alone. I try to tell people that the aging process is the same for all of us, regardless of religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation. At one point or another, we will all need a helping hand - and that is what Family Caregiver Support is all about.'
Those interested in this new program may enroll or request additional information by calling Adam Halpern, Jewish Family Service's intake specialist, at (206) 861-3152.
Founded in Seattle in 1892, Jewish Family Service delivers essential human services to alleviate suffering, sustain healthy relationships, and support people in times of need. For more information, call (206) 461-3240, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.jfsseattle.org.
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