Utah seniors want to age in place at home. Staying in their own homes is also more cost-effective than entering residential facilities. But a new study from Utah Foundation shows many of the programs they depend on are inadequately funded.
Without these programs, the risk increases that seniors will need to enter expensive full-time care facilities. As a fiscal matter, it is more expensive to subsidize these facilities than to fund services to help seniors stay at home where they want to be.
Utah seniors rely on nutrition programs such as Meals on Wheels, which delivers meals to homebound seniors. Caregiver services are less well-known than the nutrition programs, but they also provide critical support for those who take care of aging seniors. These programs are offered through the Area Agencies on Aging that exist in counties throughout the state, but funds are limited and constrain their reach.
The report’s key findings include:
Utah’s senior population is growing rapidly. By 2030 Utah’s senior population will make up more than 13% of the state.
The vast majority of seniors want to age in place. Aging services make it more likely that seniors will be able to stay in their own homes.
More than 10% of Utah seniors rely on nutrition programs like senior center meals and Meals on Wheels.
There are 336,000 caregivers in Utah who provide 90% of the care for seniors. Less than 1% of caregivers use state or local support services.
Every county in the state has a waiting list for caregiver respite services because these services are inadequately funded. Transportation services for seniors are scarce, especially in rural areas of the state, which impedes senior mobility and independence.
State programs like Alternatives that provide services such as household chores and personal care are critical for helping vulnerable seniors remain at home instead of entering skilled nursing facilities.
To keep up with current service levels for seniors, state funding will need to increase between $5.8 and $8.8 million by 2030.
“Caregivers are the silent heroes in this report,” said Utah Foundation Research Analyst Melissa Proctor, the author of the study. “Many of them take care of aging family members for years without outside support, and make overwhelming personal and professional sacrifices to perform caregiving work.”
Transportation is another significant and often unmet need. “The official transportation budget for Utah seniors is tiny, and foreshadows an increasingly serious mobility mismatch between the senior population and the limitations of Utah’s public transportation system. As a result, transportation is one of the greatest needs of Utah seniors.”
Mayor James Hadfield of American Fork, who chairs the advisory council on Aging and Family Services for the Mountainland Association of Governments, says care of the aging is a problem that can no longer be ignored. “We all feel strongly about the importance of funding education and programs for our children. This report highlights the need for funding senior programs for a number of our seniors to assist them to remain healthier and at home where they want to be. Caring for our seniors is a Utah value that needs to be addressed.”The study is available on Utah Foundation’s website at http://www.utahfoundation.org/reports/taking-care-of-our-seniors-an-assessment-of-utahs-aging-services/. Financial support for this study was provided by the Mountainland Association of Governments.