CAPITOL UPDATE FROM SEN. EDDIE LUCIO, JR.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009
CONTACT: Doris Sanchez, Communications Director
Legislative Committee on Aging Studies Senior Population
It is estimated that by 2040 Texans over 60 will comprise 23 percent of the total state population.
Services that affect the everyday life of seniors in this state need better coordination, expansion and more accessibility.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst appointed me chair of the Committee on Aging this interim.
Modeled after the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and created from legislation authored by state Rep. Elliott Naishtat and Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, we held our first hearing in Austin on Oct. 29.
Potential topics we will study include health care, income, transportation, housing, education and employment needs related to the demographic and geographic diversity of Texas' elderly population.
In his presentation at our first hearing, State Demographer Karl Eschbach, Ph.D., showed that many seniors and those who care for them are faced with the challenges of living on low, fixed incomes. The poverty rate for seniors age 65 or older is 14 percent statewide. In my Senatorial District in South Texas, that number is approximately 34 percent.
Testimony from interim Commissioner for the Department of Aging and Disability Services Jon Wizenbaum corroborated Dr. Eschbach's findings that rural, border and non-major metropolitan areas are growing older because of the out-migration of youth to major metropolitan areas.
Rural and smaller communities, such as those along the border, often find it challenging to access available state resources. Their elderly populations may find it even more difficult to access and navigate the system either because they don't know how or assistance and resources are not available in their areas.
Seniors and those who care for them need to access services designed to ease challenges that impede everyday living, such as transportation to and from the grocery store and doctor. Many also need safe, affordable or wheelchair accessible housing. For example, home modifications that range from replacing cabinet doorknobs with pull handles to building wheelchair ramps challenges the elderly population and those who care for them.
The committee also plans to examine services available for caregivers of the elderly. Projections show that by 2040, the 65-plus population who is dependent on others for assistance will nearly equal the dependent population below age 15.
Most care given to seniors is unpaid and provided by "informal caregivers" who are mainly family, relatives and friends.
The economic downturn has affected family caregivers in some significant ways, including use of savings, additional debt to cover the cost of care giving and work situations. On average, six in 10 people caring for a relative or friend are employed at some point, and one-third of them provide 40 hours of care per week.
Commissioner Weizenbaum also estimates that some 10 percent of older Texans are caring for a family member.
Compared to nursing home or hired help, informal care saves families money. If the state provides an adequate support system for these caregivers--especially those facing economic hardships-- then they can offer their loved ones a higher quality of care with fewer financial constraints.
Proper education and training can also reduce abuse of the elderly by caregivers.
Committee members expressed concern about meeting family caregiver needs like respite, support groups, education, training and other supplemental services.
Many areas of the state offer adult day care facilities for low-income seniors that enable family caregivers to work and obtain respite. For example, Cameron County has 55 centers, Hidalgo--of which I represent a portion--has 157, Willacy three and Kleberg two.
Besides these topics, the committee may also choose to discuss legal services, financial planning and consumer protection for the elderly.
It is necessary for the committee to address as many pertinent issues as possible. We owe it to our elderly population who has made this country great for the rest of us.
As always, if you have any input or questions regarding these or other matters, please do not hesitate to contact Doris Sanchez, my Communications Director, 512-463-0385.