Social service agencies, insurance experts to explain assistance options
By MIKE CHALMERS
Staff reporter
11/04/2002

As the elderly population in Delaware and the nation grows, more people find they need to help care for an elderly relative, and that places new pressures on them and, in many cases, their employers.

The elder-care challenges for families and employers will be the topic of the ElderCare Awareness Conference scheduled for Wednesday in Wilmington, designed to help people and businesses learn what assistance is available.

The daylong event, sponsored by AARP Delaware, the Family and Workplace Connection and the Delaware Commission for Women, will feature businesses, social-service agencies, attorneys, insurance experts and others. It is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Hotel du Pont.

"A lot of people don't realize there's help available," said Lisa Wolfe, spokeswoman for AARP Delaware. "We're trying to bring everyone together."

In Delaware, there were about 102,000 people age 65 and older in 2000, an increase of 26 percent over the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Nationwide, the number of people age 65 and older increased about 12 percent, to about 35 million, during the same period.

Workers and employers in recent years have come to the same understandings of elder-care needs that they did about child-care during the 1980s, said Gerri Weagraff, vice president of marketing for the Family and Workplace Connection. The nonprofit group offers child-care and elder-care referral services for companies and employees.

"Employees are still reluctant to share the experiences they're going through, but many of them still need help," Weagraff said. "It's in a company's best interest to support their employees who have elder-caregiving needs."

Caring for an elderly relative costs U.S. businesses between $11 billion and $29 billion in lost productivity, absenteeism and turnover, according to a 1997 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the MetLife Mature Market Institute.

The conference will be broken into two parts, with morning speakers and workshops focused on employers' concerns and the afternoon workshops designed for caregivers.

Morning speakers will discuss handling employee requests for assistance, supporting workers who need to care for a relative, offering long-term care insurance and other topics. Afternoon sessions will cover legal issues, long-distance caregiving, understanding Medicare, housing options, insurance and personal safety.

There will be more than 30 businesses and nonprofit organizations displaying information throughout the conference, and they will remain at the hotel from 4-6 p.m. for the general public at no charge, Wolfe said.

Weagraff said the conference also can be helpful for people who do not currently need care, or are not caring for a relative.

"People should start to plan ahead," Weagraff said. "You don't want to act in a crisis mode."

Reach Mike Chalmers at 324-2790 or mchalmers@delawareonline.com.

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