ANCHORAGE - Here at KTVA CBS 11 News, we’re starting a new series focusing on the challenges and opportunities surrounding one of the oldest populations in Alaska.
It’s a population growing faster here than anywhere else in the country.
CBS 11’s Lauren Maxwell introduces or re-introduces us to Alaska’s senior population and why caring for your parent is more of a reality than you think.
It’s a role reversal reality that many of us are falling into unexpectedly.
With this installment, we begin a weekly series called Caring for Your Parents... a look at the rapid growth of how adult children are spending more and more time caring for the ones who raised them. (Follow and join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #KTVAC4P.)
It’s called the silver tsunami. The baby boomer generation is about to flood our senior population with millions of people.
“By about 2020, we will have about 20 percent of our population over the age of 60,” said Linda Meyer, senior services coordinator for the Municipality of Anchorage’s Department of Health and Human Services. “We have a very large boomer population. When we look at that as a community, we are going to be faced with some opportunities and challenges.
Every day 8,000 people in the U.S. are celebrating their 65th birthday. The Alaska Commission on Aging released a report last year capturing what that means for us.
It found our senior population grew over 70 percent from 2000 to 2010.
“We are seeing a lot of people staying here rather than moving, because we are doing fairly well in terms of services and supports – better than some other states,” said Lisa Wawrzonek, education director of Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska.
The commission’s report found at least $1.7 billion is pumped into Alaska’s economy every year from seniors retiring and staying put.
A good portion of that money is spent on health care.
Dementia is one of the biggest health issues facing Alaska’s seniors. One of the most well known forms of dementia is Alzheimer’s.
“…And with our growing senior population, we are also going to have a growing population diagnosed with some form of dementia. Whether it’s Alzheimer’s, Lewy [Lewy Body dementia] or stroke related, 1 in 8, 65 or older, is going to be impacted. And it doesn’t just impact that person but also those caring for that person,” Wawrzonek, of Alzheimer’s Resource of Alaska, said.
And the face of the caregiver is increasingly becoming their adult children. Yes, the answer to who will take care of mom and dad… is you.
“The family caregiver is the primary care giver. Seven out of 10 people live with their family or in their home. The role reversal of this is my parent and now being in that parent role can create a lot of emotional stress,” said Wawrzonek.
It’s stress over things like independence. How can your parents maintain their independence when they can no longer do things independently?
It all comes down to risks… risks such as falling and not being found right away. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injuries among seniors, but some would rather live with those risks than give up their independence.
“I think as children, the most difficult thing and I know this for me is allowing my parents to have those risks. But they are adults and unless they are incapacitated, people can make their own decisions about how much risk they want to take and how they can maintain their independence,” said Meyer from the city’s Health and Human Services department.
“[It’s part of our] lifestyle and culture in Alaska,” said Wawrzonek. “We are independent spirits. When you take pioneers who have really built this state and say you will get up at this time, eat at this time and this is what you are going to eat because I am choosing it for you. It makes it really difficult.”
To lessen that difficulty, you need to start having those conversations now.
“None of us know when something is going to happen,” Meyer said. “And we can’t make a decision for ourselves. Who do we trust to make that decision? Being very thoughtful about that. It’s not always simple to have my daughter do it or have my son do it. You need to be very thoughtful about that.”
Alaska’s Adult Protective Services and Long Term Care Ombudsman’s office are seeing a large increase in senior abuse and neglect cases: an increase of 333 percent over the last six years. But sometimes it can be unintentional.
“Unfortunately, there are families out there that abuse… neglect… exploit. But there are also families that maybe just didn’t know what they were doing would raise a red flag, or they get worried that mom is stealing from them. Doesn’t mean they are. Just means that to the wrong person, it could get reported,” Wawrzonek said.
“One of the things we can do as a community is to be educating everyone,” said Meyer. “From the hairdresser to the bank teller to the mailman to those signs to tell everyone that ‘wow, that’s a yellow flag. I need to check this out.’”
That means checking things out while trying to respect the independence and freedom of choice of those that paved the way for us.
Join us each week on CBS 11 News and ktva.com as we take a look at the challenges and opportunities facing our seniors and how their care is falling on the shoulders of their children.
For more information on text KTVAAGING to 28201.