State Master Plan on Aging deserves review

Recognizing that California’s over-65 population is projected to grow to 8.6 million by 2030, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order recently calling for a Master Plan for Aging to be developed by Oct. 1, 2020.

The master plan will serve as a blueprint for state government, local communities, private organizations and philanthropists to build environments that promote an age-friendly California.

Our local Area Agency on Aging and Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin have been hosting informational sessions about the needs of older adults in our communities.

In reviewing the myriad of topics to focus on, here are my top areas for consideration:

For the growing number of older adults who will be dealing with chronic disease and disability, can policies be put in place to make long-term care more affordable?

As life spans increase and the huge generation of baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) cycle through, the senior population will reach 20% of all citizens in our state over the next 20 years.

According to the National Council on Aging, about 80% of older adults have at least one chronic disease and 68% have at least two. In a recent CVS Health survey, nearly one in two seniors reported living with two or more chronic conditions.

The level of care and length of time older adults will require long-term care services will outstrip their ability to pay, putting pressure on families as well as government, healthcare and community-based organizations to meet those needs.

The system of services for older adults is difficult to navigate while older adults’ issues are becoming increasingly complicated. What can we do to make accessing services easier for older adults?

For many older adults and people with disabilities, the key to remaining independent can be something as simple as a home-delivered meal, a ramp for their homes or a few hours of respite for a family caregiver. Unfortunately, an often disjointed maze of eligibility criteria, forms, programs and agencies can prevent even the most determined individuals from obtaining these critical supports.

The No Wrong Door System was developed in a partnership between the Administration for Community Living, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and the Veterans Health Administration to ensure that, regardless of which agency people contact for help, they can access information and one-onone counseling about the options available across all the agencies and in their communities.

This system is a great start but needs to be expanded to for-profit companies and other community-based organizations that are an entry point for older adults or their family caregivers seeking help.

Older adults and their caregivers need access to education, training and programs for emergency preparedness.

As Californians, we are often at the mercy of Mother Nature, with soaring temperatures, earthquakes and wildfires continuing to be typical scenarios. Older adults living in our communities need to be prepared and have the tools necessary to empower their personal safety.

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that older adults are more than twice as likely as the general population to die in fires. Most of the 86 people who died in the Paradise, Calif., fires (November 2018) were seniors.

Older adults living in our hometowns need help with preparation and planning for natural disasters. Emergency disaster plans need to be in place in skilled nursing facilities and residential care facilities as well.

Greater support systems need to be in place to assist family caregivers caring for older adults.

Today, unpaid family caregivers provide 87% of long-term care service in this country, according to AARP.

The gradual and consistent demographic growth of the age 85-plus population and the increasing cost of long-term care is going to mean a heavier reliance on unpaid care by family caregivers.

Caregiving is not an option for half of the family caregivers in this country. The impact of the life of caregivers includes financial, emotional and health challenges. Polices that bolster and support family caregivers will help us to reduce the cost of long-term care for older adults.

To learn more about California’s Master Plan on Aging or to offer comments on it, go to www.chhs.ca.gov/home/master-planforaging.

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Andrea GallagherAndrea Gallagher

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