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Rising Tides: Is OC Ready for the Silver Tsunami?

Rising Tides: Is OC Ready for the Silver Tsunami?

Honor or forsake. Two extreme – yet common – ways cultures around the world care for aging members of their communities. As the Silver Tsunami crests over Orange County, we have a decision to make: How will we choose to care for those who spent their lifetimes caring for us? Orange County is home to more than 400,000 older adults over the age of 65, and that number will increase to 870,650 within 20 years. And though some will have livable incomes, an overwhelming number will not. According to the Office on Aging, 30 percent of older adults in Orange County are economically insecure and one in five live alone, which makes them even more vulnerable to both economic and health risks. Although organizations such as SeniorServ and Council on Aging are working hard to prevent any vulnerable older adult from going hungry or without support services, the challenges grow every day.

“We nourish homebound seniors through Meals on Wheels and case management and other services to homebound seniors to help them live with wellness, purpose and dignity in their own homes” said Holly Hagler, president and CEO, SeniorServ. “We must work together as a community in Orange County to address these escalating needs; otherwise; our social services and health care systems will be overwhelmed.”

SeniorServ is developing low-cost, effective ways to help meet the growing needs of Orange County’s older-adult population, such as Care Circles, a volunteer program aimed to help seniors be well and live independently in their own homes.

“Most of our homebound, isolated seniors are not mobile, so they have trouble with light house-keeping, walking their dogs or collecting their mail from a central spot in their complex,” Hagler explained. “The pilot is serving approximately 30 homebound seniors, which has doubled since its inception a year ago. We have a waiting list of more than 20 seniors, and that number grows each day.”

Care Circles and other “friendly visitor” programs are essential for seniors who grapple with disabilities and age-related conditions – and that segment of Orange County’s population is growing rapidly. According to statistics gathered by the Orange County Health Aging Initiative (OCHAI), at least 31.5 percent of local seniors live with a disability and another 15.7 percent report having a difficulty that makes independent living problematic.

SeniorServ aims to develop Care Circles as a volunteer program that other organizations can replicate, which is critical as declining government social services create a gap, leaving organizations serving seniors vulnerable. Previously, SeniorServ was forced to cut Trip OC, its popular program offering transportation to homebound seniors, because the county wasn’t able to provide sustainable funding.

Irvine-based nonprofit, Council on Aging has continued to make a significant difference in the lives of seniors in Orange County since 1973. The Council on Aging provides services to all elderly and disabled adults, particularly those who are the most vulnerable. They focus on those who lack support systems and resources, and who need an advocate to access services. COA offers an array of programs to address key issues such as understanding Medicare benefits, food security and hunger, and mental health and loneliness.

One of their oldest programs is the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program which advocates for our most vulnerable seniors.   “There are 28,000 long-term care residents in Orange County and approximately half of them are alone and don’t have anyone to advocate on their behalf,” said Lisa Wright Jenkins, president and ceo of Council on Aging, pointing out that these seniors are susceptible to abuse and neglect. OCHAI reports that there were 250 substantiated complaints of elder abuse in long-term care facilities in 2015.

The Council on Aging’s Ombudsman Program was created to ensure the rights of residents in long-term care facilities are respected. Ombudsmen empower and protect residents of skilled nursing homes, board and care homes, and assisted-living facilities. They provide the security of a caring advocate and assert the rights of a resident, particularly when a family member is not present.

“The biggest hurdle for the continuation of these programs is that older adults don’t garner the same kind of charitable response as other needs, such as children’s programs,” said Todd Hanson, OCCF’s vice president, Center for Engaged Philanthropy “And yet, a small amount of philanthropy can make a major impact.”

“Most people are not aware of the fact that our senior population is exploding. This extreme increase in the senior population will break our social system unless we come together as a community,” Hagler warned. “That’s why we are asking families, volunteers and funders to help their elderly neighbors, many of whom blazed so many trails to make Orange County what it is today. Now it is our turn.”

To learn more about how you can support our community of older adults, visit Nonprofit Central.

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