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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware needs to do more for its seniors

June 2, 2022

By Sen. Sprios Mantzavinos |

Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to talk with older residents from across the state. Some are lifelong Delawareans, while others moved here later in life. They have diverse backgrounds and stories, but, regardless of these differences, they share a collective desire to age in their own homes.

A recent AARP survey found that 76% of Americans want to “age in place,” but for many, this is not always a viable option. There are a range of barriers, but most challenging are when otherwise independent seniors are unable to complete necessary household tasks nor get access to support services to allow them to stay in their own homes.

This is a key issue facing the state. Delaware’s population is aging and has been for some time. In 2018, 1 in 5 Delawareans was over the age of 65, and these figures are expected to increase markedly by 2050. That is why I convened the Delaware Aging-in-Place Working Group — to bring together a diverse group of stakeholders to prepare a plan of action to increase the availability and accessibility of support services. Our goal: to ensure that older Delawareans are able to remain in their own homes safely, independently and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability.

Financial burden and high costs are central barriers to accessing services. Private care is expensive, with the annual median cost of 40 hours of professional care in 2021 estimated to be $58,240, which is beyond the budget of many Delawareans. This is a 12% increase from the previous year, and this cost is driven in part by a shortage of in-home health care workers. For some, family members and other volunteers help to overcome the need. AARP estimates that 140,000 Delawareans provide some form of volunteer caregiving; however, this comes at a cost. On average, American caregivers spend 26% of their annual incomes on caregiving-related expenses. These expenses are significant and untenable for many Delaware families.

The impacts of these costs are compounded by other factors, such as inequalities in other areas of society and prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias. More than a quarter of all Black Delawareans admitted to a nursing home in 2020 were under the age of 65. In the same year, only an eighth of White Delawareans admitted were under the age of 65. This suggests that there are racial disparities in Delawareans’ ability to age in place. Meanwhile, Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia further complicate the situation, with those afflicted requiring greater support. Even though only 10% of older Americans have dementia, they receive roughly a third of all caregiving hours. Some estimates suggest this proportion could be as much as half. In Delaware, about 30% of seniors experiencing memory problems live alone, and it’s estimated that 54% have not talked with their doctor about their memory problems. These figures highlight the complexity of this issue and the need for a comprehensive strategy.

While the state has a range of services designed to address these barriers, the working group found that these are underutilized, largely because Delawareans are not aware of them. This underscores the need for action. This is an issue that is here and now and that will only grow as Delaware continues to age.

To chart the course on our response to these challenges, the working group put together a 26-page report and a package of 23 recommendations covering topics ranging from increasing availability of financial and legal services for seniors, promoting greater access to existing services, supporting the professional and volunteer caregiver workforces, and studying and addressing racial disparities in the state’s service infrastructure.

While these recommendations are only a start, they provide a plan to increase the accessibility and availability of services for seniors and their families. I am already leading the charge on policies to bolster elder care with my sponsorship of Senate Bill 283, which seeks to increase dementia-specific training for Delaware’s health care professionals, but it is crucial that we act on these recommendations. I will strive to see this done to ensure that Delaware’s seniors of today and tomorrow are able to remain independent and comfortable in their own homes.

Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos represents the state’s 7th District, which encompasses Elsmere, Greenbank, Marshallton, Pike Creek, the Lancaster Pike/Newport Gap Pike areas and parts of Newport and Pike Creek.