Officials of area organizations and agencies are noticing a local manifestation of a national trend: both caregivers and care receivers are more likely to be seniors or members of the baby boomer generation.
This trend can be seen in the number of people in the ranks of volunteers as well as those who are employed in caregiving roles.
For instance, Faith in Action Caregivers Inc., a nonprofit group that provides free services to older residents and people with disabilities in Ohio, Marshall and Belmont counties, had 236 volunteers in 2013. Jeanette L. Wojcik, executive director, said, "Of these, 28.4 percent were between the ages of 60 to 69; 25.5 percent were between ages 70 to 79 and 6.8 percent were ages 80 to 86."
Photo by Linda Comins
Discussing their experiences of being caregivers are, from left, volunteers Ellie Good and Barbara Jones, both of Wheeling; Jeanette L. Wojcik, executive director of Faith in Action Caregivers Inc., and volunteer Margaret Stewart of Wheeling. Reflecting a national trend, many of the Faith in Action volunteers are seniors or baby boomers.
She remarked, "I think there are a lot of reasons for this including the fact that people age 60 and over are often retired and have more time to volunteer."
Wojcik said the number of people age 65 and older will increase dramatically for the next 20 years. The first baby boomers reached age 65 in 2010. She said experts project that the number of people age 85 and older will double between 2010 and 2020.
According to statistics from the 2010 Census, Wojcik said, "Approximately 28 percent of the people in our community are age 60 and over. This percentage increases each year since the baby boomers are the single largest population group in our area, as well as in the country."
Citing the need for caregiving services, she pointed out, "Only 4.3 percent of older adults actually live in any kind of nursing, convalescent or rest home. Family caregivers (mostly wives and daughters) provide 80 percent of the care for the elderly. Approximately 33 percent of all households have at least one person over age 65."
A study conducted by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 2001 surveyed older Americans regarding their views on aging. "The survey found that more than a quarter of older Americans reported difficulty doing daily activities because of age, illness or disability," Wojcik said. "Many older Americans are themselves caregivers for a spouse, parent, other family member or friend and feel they need help with this responsibility.
"Most want to stay connected with other people and do not want to become lonely or isolated as they age. The majority of those surveyed say they would be comfortable receiving assistance from faith-based volunteers," Wojcik said, quoting from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study.
For those interested in joining the ranks of those providing voluntary assistance, Faith in Action Caregivers has volunteer training scheduled at 9 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 20, at its new offices, located inside St. John's Lutheran Church, 38 N. Fourth St., Martins Ferry.
For three of Faith in Action Caregivers' longtime volunteers, their "senior" status doesn't slow down their efforts to help others, including people who are older or younger than they are. In fact, for all three women, caregiving and doing good deeds are traits that they learned from their parents and other family members.
"Most of us do take care of people who are younger than we are," volunteer Ellie Good of Wheeling observed. She recalled that her mother, who lived to an advanced age, baked bread and took loaves to people in her Rhode Island neighborhood every week. "Half of these people were younger than she was," Good said. "Mother always said this was a ministry."
Barbara Jones, another volunteer from Wheeling, agreed. "It was the same thing with me. My parents helped people," she said. "My in-laws were so devout in helping people. They were farmers. On Sunday, after milking and after church, they took plants and things to people."
Good noted that care recipients, regardless of age, are always appreciative of the assistance that is given. In response to being thanked, Jones said, "It was really my pleasure, because I've met so many nice people over the years."
On occasion, the active volunteers were on the receiving end of caregiving - for Good after hip surgery and for Jones when she was recovering from a serious illness.
In addition to their service as volunteers, Good, Jones and fellow volunteer Margaret Stewart of Wheeling have been family caregivers. After years of caring for parents, spouses and other family members, they understand the challenges that family caregivers face in their daily routine of tending to aging or ailing relatives.
Stewart spent about nine years caring for her husband before his death. "My mother was still living, too. In fact, she outlived him," Stewart said.
Faith in Action didn't exist when Stewart's husband was ill, so she was on her own when it came to caregiving. "He was in the hospital for five months one time. Mother was in Good Shepherd Nursing Home," Stewart said, recalling the many trips she made between both facilities.
Good worked as a nurse in hospital and hospice settings and provided care for her late husbands, her mother and other relatives, in addition to being a Faith in Action volunteer since the local organization's inception. Discussing the wearying effects that family members can experience, she recalled that the hospice where she worked handed out copies of "a beautiful little book" titled "Caring for the Caregivers."
The need for people, particularly boomers and seniors, to act as volunteers is growing as people live longer and families are separated by great distances now, Jones reflected. Wojcik suggested that community members nurture and encourage people in the baby boomer generation to become volunteers.
As a senior, Good said "age never came into it" in regard to her ability to help or in recipients' reactions to her efforts. For example, she has helped a younger woman who has cerebral palsy. There have been times, Good said, when care receivers have made comments that include phrases such as "when you get to be my age," without realizing that she, the caregiver, may be as old or older than the person being helped.
"We do help a lot of people in their 40s and 50s, who are in poor health, in a lifestyle condition," Wojcik said. "We are sending volunteers to them who are in their 70s or 80s."
Jones said care receivers are "grateful for this help. Age doesn't make a difference."
Wojcik agreed, saying, "I don't think anyone has ever said age is an issue. They're happy to have some help."
Reiterating that age is "a non-issue," Wojcik thinks the most important contribution a volunteer can offer is compassion, "showing that you sincerely care about the people you're helping," she said. "We're not doing any personal care or (dispensing) medications."
Good said, "It's so great listening to their life stories, hearing their history stories about their lives, their children, their animals." Jones added, "I always like to know something about people."
Good encourages others to become volunteers. "Once a week, an hour a month, it would be such a help ... So many people have no idea what it is to help people ... It's such a wonderful experience to do that. I wish we had more younger people to take advantage of it."
Wojcik remarked, "I think the baby boomer generation is the group we've got to target as volunteers. We have a lot of volunteers over the age of 70." At the same time, people in their early 60s are retiring and looking for activities and opportunities to utilize their skills and knowledge.
"Sometimes, they don't know how little (time or effort) is involved" in becoming a volunteer, Jones said.
Stewart sells gift cards to benefit Faith in Action Caregivers, assists with preparing the organization's newsletter for mailing and helps with arrangements for the annual triathlon, which is the group's largest fundraiser.
"There are all kinds of gifts people have," Wojcik said. While providing transportation to doctors' appointments and medical treatment is the biggest need met by Faith in Action Caregivers, volunteers also are needed to help plan events, to sell gift cards in their congregations, to pick up medicine or groceries for care receivers, to provide brief respite for family members and to make reassurance calls to people who are homebound.
Good has been involved with Faith in Action from the beginning, since serving as a member of the steering group that launched the organization in 1995. Both Jones and Stewart became volunteers shortly after the group's inception.
"These are long-term people here," Wojcik remarked. "Roughly 80 percent (of volunteers) have been with us six years or more. That's really wonderful."
Wheeling resident Jim McGlumphy, co-owner with his two brothers of a Seniors Helping Seniors franchise, said, "We employ able-bodied seniors to assist other seniors in their daily routine. It's completely non-medical. It's companionship, meal preparation, light housekeeping, transportation."
He explained, "Our caregivers are independent contractors. Typically, we're not hiring people who are looking for a job. We're hiring people who have a heart of a volunteer, even though they do get compensated for their work."
When the McGlumphy brothers opened their franchise, he said, "We advertised in the paper. We got close to 200 responses. We eliminated quite a few of them on a phone interview and whittled the list down. Out of the 200, we selected about 20. We still keep that many active. We may have about 20 active caregivers."
Some of the employees work in multiple locations, he said. The amount of time spent working for a client varies depending on the need.
McGlumphy said it is amazing to see the friendships that develop between clients and caregivers. "Ninety percent of the service we provide is companionship. They want somebody to be able to talk to, to share with them," he said. "Companionship is, by far, the bottom line on all this. It's amazing to see this bond develop. They become friends. It's not an employer-employee situation; it's a true friendship."
The McGlumphys operate the only Seniors Helping Seniors franchise in West Virginia. It is among approximately 200 franchises across the United States.
"Our youngest caregiver is 58 and our oldest is 74," the co-owner said. "They are absolutely tremendous people. They are looking for a way to fill a void in their lives. It's a win-win. We're reconnecting them (the clients) with society, giving them a way to bond with someone closer to their own age. They become best friends is typically what happens. It's really a neat story. We've had great success with it.
"Instead of somebody just coming in and doing a job, there's a real bond and real relationship established there," McGlumphy said.