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In Texas, Elderly Population Gets Help from Increasingly Older Caregivers

Veronica Zaragovia, KUT
Henrietta City, left, helps Betty Finn at her apartment in Austin on Feb. 12, 2014.

As older Americans make up a greater percentage of the population, more of them are finding themselves in need of home care workers.

That workforce is aging as well, and Texas is no exception. 

Take Henrietta City. She's in her early 60s and she helps Betty Finn in her early 80s every week. On a recent afternoon that meant trying to hang a clock on a wall of Finn’s apartment, but the work takes a lot of different forms. 

"I did the dusting and the straightening up and doing the mopping, sweeping and mopping, vacuum, washing dishes," she says.

Sure, she’s a paid home care worker, but she also considers Finn a friend.

"We’re a lot alike in many ways," City says.

Finn agrees.

"Also, she’s had a real close family and she’s caring about her own family just like me," Finn says. "I’m caring about my family. And so when you share the little things here and there about what’s happened, it sort of makes you have a bond. And also she’s single because her husband died, and both of mine passed away. So  there’s something there -- have a bond as a result."

When City first became a caregiver as a young woman, it might have been harder to consider her clients her friends. Back then she was much younger than the people she was caring for. Now in Texas and across the country, that’s less likely to be the case.  

"What we’re seeing is it’s projected to increase dramatically over the next 10 years. In fact the number of direct care workers over 55 is going to increase by nearly 70 percent by 2022," says Abby Marquand, a director of policy research at the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute – or PHI -- in New York.  

Last monththe institute published information on the homecare workforce. Looking at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau, Marquand and her team found that by 2022, an additional half a million direct care workers will be older than 55.

"We see the population of older adults in need of long-term services and support skyrocketing," Marquand says. "And this is largely due to the aging of the baby boom generation. But also we just see people living longer with chronic diseases requiring some support."

On top of that, fewer younger workers appear interested in the work.

"At H.A.N.D. right now we have approximately 300 personal care attendants who are all part-time employees in the field taking care of clients," says Amy Temperley, executive director of the Austin based nonprofit H.A.N.D. -- Helping the Aging, Needy and Disabled. "And right now about 40 percent of those individuals are 55 and older."

Temperley cites other factors behind the aging trend.

"The population is just aging as a whole, we’re working longer, some individuals are supplementing social security – you’ll see older attendants supplementing retirement or social security," she adds. "We also see a number of people coming into the field after they’ve been caregivers for their own family members and that they found such a heart for it that they wanted to reach out."

Temperley says the age of caregivers presents challenges. Younger workers might be better equipped to lift people or help bathe them. And they’re less likely to suffer from back injuries or arthritis of their own. But it’s difficult to attract younger people to the profession in Texas.  According to the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute a caregiver in Texas makes, on average, about $9 an hour.

Though, Henrietta City says the profession can be rewarding in other ways.

"I just enjoy taking care of other people and enjoy making them happy and enjoying their life as they go through. It’s been a joy I just want to keep doing it as long as I can," City says.

She says she has extra time on her hands and gets as much out of her work as she puts in.

This story is part of the MetLife Foundation’s “Journalists in Aging Fellows Program” – organized by The Gerontological Society of America and New America Media.

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