If anyone had told me I would be running for office while putting my mother on hospice and then losing her and making final arrangements, I would not have believed I could do it. And yet somehow I have summoned all that inner strength and come out the other side.
But I am not special. As I share my mother’s battle with end-stage dementia, I realize that families everywhere are struggling with how to care for a wave of aging Baby Boomers and the generation before. And we are all living longer without the proper savings for end-of-life care in a country which is ill prepared for the challenge.
Adding to the dilemma is the fact that degenerative brain disease is on the rise across the U.S., according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
As Ventura senior activist Suz Montgomery puts it, “The tsunami is here.”
Montgomery, vice chair of the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging and president of the Ventura Council of Seniors, is an outspoken and fierce advocate for this population and their families, and they need her. She is a popular face at local senior facilities where she has taught classes for 17 years.
But she has harsh words for the City of Ventura’s efforts for seniors, pointing to Senior Concerns in Thousand Oaks and the Simi Valley Senior Center as better models for what could be done here. We lack transportation services like Dial-a-Ride and have only one senior center to serve the entire city and it is located on the west side away from the large concentration of seniors on the east end.
“We are the poorest child out of the 10 cities in the county,” she exclaimed. “Why are we so negligent in caring for our population of seniors?”
Montgomery blames our country’s lack of preparation for aging in general on our fear of death. “In America we run away from it. We don’t want to die.” People in other countries have better integrated the aging process into their culture, she said. “We look at seniors as a nuisance.”
The Ventura City Council recently set aside a small amount of money for a Senior Strategic Plan and Montgomery is pumped about it. “It’s going to be a road map for where we’re going.” A senior site in east Ventura and better transportation are at the top of her wish list. She wants better education for families, senior-youth pairings and help with negotiating Medicare and Medi-Cal. “It’s gotten really sophisticated and you need someone to explain it to you.”
In my own struggles with a family member with brain disease, I found help from a great program, the Coast Caregiver Resource Center, which offers families counseling, respite care and support groups. But it is perpetually underfunded by the state and that’s too bad.
Montgomery has devoted her life to the cause, but needs more warriors to help.
“Why should you be involved? Because it’s gonna be you.”