Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Life-Saving Support Systems - it's our time to act

In among all the political news today was a story that caught my eye: the suicide rate of people in my age group – between ages 45 and 54 – has soared in the past five years.

Overall in that age group the suicide rate increased nearly 20%; for women, the increase was 31%. This is in sharp contract to the suicide rates in other age groups, which either increased only slightly (teenagers) or actually decreased (senior adults).

Of course, no one can do a factual study to find out why, but many theories are being discussed. I have my own theory: we’re feeling increasingly more stressed with pressures of being sandwiched between our responsibilities as parents (many of us still have young children, having waited to start our families until our 30s or even our 40s) and our parents, most of whom are living longer – not necessarily independent – lives.

If you google the term “Sandwich Generation” you’ll see with page after page of stories, web sites and blog discussions. This is not an isolated experience – it is nearly universal within this age group.

Of our own personal friends, the vast majority are feeling the pressure. In the past 12 months, three of our closest friends lost a parent. All had increased their visiting, their work load (to help pay for needed services) and their own involvement in their parents’ lives. All had children at home or in college. One was even fighting her own battle with breast cancer at the same time.

Is it any wonder that some people simply say, “Enough!”?

As professionals involved in providing services to seniors, what are we doing to support the people in the middle? What more CAN we do? Support groups often aren’t the answer for people who are already running every day and evening of the week. Virtual support, email support and simply being available to listen may be one of the most significant things we can offer.

Certainly, taking some of the caregiving responsibilities off of the shoulders of maxed out kids can make a tremendous difference.

Silverado Senior Living has been taking this assistance on the road, so to speak, by offering services in the homes of individuals who are not yet ready – may never be ready – to move into a community living environment.

The Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) calls this approach “assisted living without walls”.

I can only imagine the relief that the families of those being served must feel.

Another option is the Quiet Care system – one which, when we previewed it in my office a couple of weeks ago, one of my team members immediately said, “I need one of those today!” For individuals trying to focus on work tasks, all the while worrying about a frail parent at home alone, the relief can be immeasurable.

There’s no doubt that the increase in suicides among the “sandwich generation” is a combination of many factors; perhaps we, as a profession of senior care providers, can step up with even more tools to provide solutions.