Our Families with Memory Loss

Senior Access

By Dana Pepp and Jim Ward

Everyone knows someone with dementia. It is estimated that up to 8,000 adults in Marin County are currently diagnosed with memory loss, and that number is growing rapidly as our population ages.

Luckily, Marin has various supports for families with memory loss: two high-quality adult day programs — Marin Adult Day Health Center and Senior Access — as well as many home care providers, including JFCS, that provide dementia care.

We say “families with memory loss,” because this journey really does affect the whole family, including friends and neighbors. In a recent survey, we asked respondents how many people are affected by their loved one’s memory loss. One caregiver responded: 24. Twenty-four people directly affected by one person’s diagnosis and journey into memory loss!

This journey is really challenging! There are lots of unknowns: daily ups and downs, plenty of stress and loss, but also plenty of laughs. At Senior Access, we support the caregivers by providing daily respite and support groups. We support clients by creating a loving, fun, engaging, social, and stimulating environment. We have created a program and a culture in which love, respect, compassion, and fun are valued.

Senior Access’ day programs as well as other family support services help loved ones age in place for as long as possible. The challenge we often face is that many families wait a long time — too long — to connect with respite and support services. Denial, resistance, and feeling that a loved one isn’t “old enough” or “ready enough” are common refrains. But the sooner families can connect with support services, the better for all involved.

The community-based programs and medical providers in Marin strive to work collaboratively to provide families with a menu of opportunities for loved ones. We meet quarterly to share best practices, build relationships, and streamline referrals. Through the Family Caregiver Support Program, administered by the Alzheimer’s Association, clients are provided free opportunities to try various support services throughout Marin. There are also currently researchers in Marin, including Drs. Bredesen and Ornish, working on lifestyle protocols to prevent and reduce symptoms of dementia.

Next time you speak with a friend, neighbor, or family member who is concerned about memory loss, please encourage them to visit their doctor for a neurological exam. And know that there are plenty of supports in Marin County for families with dementia.

Senior Access is celebrating 45 years supporting families with memory loss in Marin County. Please check out our video and website at www.senioraccess.org.

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Downsizing to where?

linda-jackson-headshot

From Program Director Linda Jackson: 

We decided to downsize this year. Our family home, long an empty nest since our youngest ones flew away, is simply too large for two people. There were rooms we didn’t go into, parts of the yard that we never saw, and decades of stuff that seems to reproduce when we weren’t watching. Most of all, we had a home that deserved to be full with a new, happy family.

The challenge was: Where would we move to in Marin? We wanted a smaller place in a neighborhood where we can walk about, close to restaurants, shops, and the movies. After months of searching, we found what may be be very last new unit in Marin. With little new housing being proposed in Marin, others will find it even more challenging to downsize to a smaller place.

No doubt about it, the process of downsizing is daunting.

It took months of sorting, a moving crew of millennials, and many boxes to give away and donate the things we don’t need anymore. It’s been a sweet good-bye journey, leaving the house we called home the past 28 years. It’s also been great fun to explore our new neighborhood near downtown San Rafael.

I can’t help but wonder how much harder it would be to do this if we were in our 70s or 80s? What options are there for older people in Marin as their lifestyles change? Will there be enough resources for people who want to grow older in their home and community? For those facing dementia or declining health, will they have what they need for safety and companionship?

The question for Marin is: what percentage of residents are going to choose to stay in San Rafael as they grew older? According to a national survey by AARP in 2012, about 90% of older adults intend to stay in their own homes for the next 5 to 10 years.

Have you heard of NORCs, which are a “naturally-occurring retirement community”? The parameters vary in the field, but I like this simple one: if 50 percent of a community’s residents are over 50, then the town is considered a “NORC.” Marin County hasn’t reached NORC status yet, although in 2010 the median age of Marin residents was 44.5, and there were 5,000 more people aged 75 and older than those five and under. There are some Marin places close to having a majority of residents over 50. In Belvedere, 41 percent of its residents were over 50 in 2010. A few communities in Marin have already reached NORCdom, such as the unincorporated community of Dillon Beach, where 62 percent of residents in 2010 were over 50! (You can look up fun census facts at factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml#)

People working with older adults are aware of the issues facing people as they grow older. Will there be housing for others who want to downsize? Will there be enough housing for the people who work in Marin – those who are caregivers, healthcare managers, and homecare experts? What about low-income people who need affordable housing, or people who need extra care, like assisted living or memory care? The recent report Older Adult Housing in Marin: Planning for 2030 estimated that 7,000 of today’s older residents need affordable housing, and that there is a shortfall of hundreds of assisted living and memory care units to meet the 2030 demand.

One small part of the housing solution in Marin is to support, fund, and streamline the process to create more accessory dwelling units. The new units can be for a caregiver, a family member, the homeowner (who can then rent out the main house), or a close-by neighbor, and can provide extra income for the homeowner. In San Rafael, the number of new accessory dwelling units doubled last year, and the city is on track to double that again. We need to do this across Marin!

This month, A.A.I. is working with our partners to ask local Councils and the Board of Supervisors to budget and prioritize funding, support, and streamlining for accessory dwelling units in 2018-19. Join us by talking this month with your elected leaders and challenging them to support this housing option for older people in Marin.

Working together, we can make a difference, starting with a place to call home.

Now, off to unpack some more boxes!

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