Washington Post Caregiving Forum Highlights Challenges and Opportunities

Seattle was one of three cities selected by Washington Post Live
for this high-level conference

On Wednesday, February 19, Washington Post Live held a forum on caregiving at the W Hotel in Seattle. Co-sponsored by AARP, the University of Washington School of Nursing, and the Ad Council, the event was part of their Caregiving in America series, held in three cities (Chicago and Atlanta were the other two).

Travel writer and TV show host Rick Steves, a resident of Edmonds, kicked off the event with a heartfelt description of his mother's battle with Alzheimer's disease. Steves, his dad, and his siblings rallied to care for her and make her final years as fulfilling as possible. Steves talked about the challenges of long-distance caregiving, but also how recent technologies allowed him to remain connected and involved even when halfway around the globe. He also spoke of the value of short-term respite services such as adult day care, and wondered why they weren't widely available. Lastly, Steves emphasized how his family made sure to keep their mom active and visible in the community, a comment which drew applause from the audience: "You need to get out there … take [your loved one with Alzheimer's] out in public, and they see how you're enjoying your life."

One panel at Caregiving in America: Seattle included (left-right) UW gerontology professor Nancy Hooyman, consultant Alene Moris, First Lady of Washington Trudi Inslee, and UW physician Shilpen Patel.

In the next segment, Washington State Department of Social and Health Services secretary Kevin Quigley provided an overview of the services available to caregivers in Washington, highlighting in particular the evidence-based caregiver assessment system called TCARE®. Quigley stressed the role of local partners, including Area Agencies on Aging, in delivering much-needed services. Yet, as progressive as Washington has been in this area, services are still only reaching about one percent of caregivers. Also on the panel, Washington’s First Lady Trudi Inslee talked about the need for workplace adult day care in addition to child care.

A panel of four caregiving experts, including UW School of Social Work gerontology professor Nancy Hooyman. Panelist Alene Moris, an 86-year-old consultant (and forum favorite, judging by audience reaction), emphasized the need to see older adults as a resource, not a problem. "Reminds me of the women's movement—remember when we were a problem?" she said to laughter. Many of the "young old" are very healthy and would be happy to help care for others in greater need. An audience member mentioned the Senior Companion Program as an example of seniors helping seniors.

Organizations and individuals from throughout the nation followed along on Twitter (#Caregiving). Aging and Disability Services tweeted photos at www.twitter.com/AgingKingCounty

Another panel focused on challenges faced by working caregivers. Two panelists discussed how the Pfizer pharmaceutical company made significant progress in accommodating the needs of working caregivers. Educating managers and supervisors is an important component and allowing paid time off or at least a flexible schedule is crucial. Pfizer is also one of the few companies to hire geriatric case managers who can assess an employee's caregiving needs and provide a plan of care.

The forum concluded with a question-and-answer session with panelists from the previous sessions.

Overall the event was an excellent opportunity to raise the visibility of caregiving, an issue that is often ignored or downplayed. Several panelists mentioned the "silent" nature of caregiving in America—many caregivers are uncomfortable talking about it the way they might talk about, say, caring for their children. Hopefully, events like this will start to break the silence.

Caregiving in America: Seattle was streamed live on the Washington Post website, and participants were encouraged to tweet their reactions during the presentations. Video highlights are available online now. A lengthy write-up of what was learned will appear in the Post in early March.

Contributor Doug Ricker is a planner with Aging and Disability Services, the Area Agency on Aging for Seattle-King County. Among many duties, he coordinates the King County Caregiver Support Network. For more information, visit www.kccaregiver.org.