×

Conference explores caregiving, aging in New Hampshire



Associated Press
Monday, March 27, 2017

As a teenager, Hyunouk Hong took care of his ill father. As a physician, he sees how hard his patients’ families work to keep them healthy and safe. But those caregivers are in one respect invisible, Hong told health and human services workers and advocates Monday.

“From the health care point of view, they don’t exist,” he said. “They don’t exist in our health records. ... There is a lot of improvement the health care side could make to connect patients and their families to resources in the community.”

Hong was among the speakers at the New Endowment for Health’s annual meeting, which explored the role of caregiving in a state whose population has the second-oldest median age, and there’s a health care and home care workforce shortage. By 2030, the state is projected to have the highest number of 85-year-olds per capita in the country, but there’s little in the way of policy to address their needs, said Laurie Harding, a former state lawmaker and co-director of the Upper Valley Community Nursing Project.

“We have some major challenges in front of us, and we’re going to have many, many people needing caregivers,” she said.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, more than 40 million people provided unpaid eldercare in 2014, helping with transportation, meals and other activities. Several of them shared their stories Monday, including Wilberto Torres, who described leaving a successful corporate job three years ago to care for his 87-year-old father and the guilt of not being able to do enough.

“Taking him home and not seeing the person you used to see every day has been the most difficult thing,” he said. “I consider myself well-educated and very resourceful. I like to figure things out on my own, but going through this experience is something I definitely wasn’t prepared for.”

Writer and humorist Rebecca Rule cared for her father until he died in 2011 and then cared for her mother for several years before her mother died in 2015.

“Just as my mother had difficulty asking for help – you could call her stubborn – I also thought I had it under control,” she said.

She described telling visiting rehabilitation workers she didn’t need help, but was grateful when, after she left the room, her daughter confessed that they did.

“Once the help started coming, then I realized we needed help,” she said.

Hong, who works in the Frail Elder Program at Concord Hospital, said he has seen too many caregivers who neglect themselves. A relative of one of his patients said she pulls over on the side of the road every few weeks to cry. But he said he is optimistic the state can do a better job supporting them.

“This is very emotional for me because I feel like there’s so much energy to help caregivers and partners,” he said “I know there’s lot of work to do, but it’s very motivating to be here with you working on this together.”