Ron Aqua, a retired executive, first suspected something was wrong when his wife, Maeja, inexplicably disappeared in the middle of the night to take a walk in their neighborhood. She was soon diagnosed with severe cognitive impairment—in other words, her brain was slowly shutting itself off. For most of the six years her health declined, Maeja lived in their light-filled home, yet Ron constantly worried about her safety, putting locks on the inside of doors to keep her from wandering, and rushing home from work to relieve the caregiver. Eventually, her care became too physically demanding for Ron, so he moved her to a nursing home where her mobility declined rapidly.
While most people envision aging at home with family members caring for them, the reality is that most of us will require skilled care—and our family members will need help, just like Ron did. The present support for aging at home is expensive, inadequate and unsustainable for those needing care, as well as for people who wish to work in the home health care field.
The need for home caregivers in Central Texas is only growing. A recent report by the Brookings Institute found that the Austin-Round Rock metropolitan area has the fastest growing pre-senior population (age 55-64) in the nation and the second fastest growing senior population (age 65+).
Unsurprisingly, home health aides and personal care aides jobs are projected to grow 41 percent from 2016 to 2026. Yet the industry lacks standards, training, and support. Workers are woefully underpaid and many are forced to leave the work they love because they can’t live on $8/hour, less than fast food restaurants pay.
In response to this pressing need, St. David’s Foundation has identified “Aging in Place” as a priority in its strategy to make Central Texas the healthiest community in the world.
Through scholarships and grants, St. David’s Foundation is investing in models of care that will allow Central Texans to live safely and independently in their own community. Grant partners such as Family Eldercare and Meals on Wheels Central Texas offer programs to keep seniors in their homes. Meals on Wheels Central Texas offers personal care attendants to help with small yet vital tasks like grooming, laundry and shopping to help them stay safe and healthy in their own homes.
In addition to supporting existing programs, St. David’s Foundation is bringing the CAPABLE Model to Central Texas. CAPABLE is a collaboration between three vital supports – a registered nurse, occupational therapist and a handyman. The combination of the three professionals helps seniors live a healthy, and safe, life in their homes for as long as possible. Although CAPABLE is not an extended long term care program, to help people like Ron and Maeja, the approach can help seniors find resources they need.
This story was published as part of the August 2019 St. David’s Foundation’s newsletter, The 411. View the full newsletter here.
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