Office of Aging expanding scope to support ‘baby boom’ generation, caregivers

September 27, 2016


HOUSTON — For more than 40 years, the Office of Aging Ministry has been responsive to the needs of older adults in parishes across the Archdiocese. But as the "baby boom" population ages, the ministry is answering this specific demand by expanding their scope and mission.
"With the aging of baby-boomers, we must cast a broader net to engage those who are age 50 and over," said Kathy Bingham, the Office of Aging director. "These are generally the family members providing the bulk of care for our aging adults."

To address these emerging demands, the Office of Aging recently added a full-time associate director. Mark Ciesielski, LMSW, has joined the Office of Aging and is tasked with the responsibility of reaching out to the age 50-plus adults in the Archdiocese while still overseeing designated senior adult groups currently active in parishes. In addition, Ciesielski will offer parish-based support and education around caregiving, end of life care and assisting individuals with accessing resources available in the community.
Caregiver care
By providing more intentional support and resources to those persons who serve as caregivers for seniors, Ciesielski notes that the caregiver — who might be an adult child, a spouse, a friend or even a neighbor — truly embodies the corporal works of mercy to love and care for the most vulnerable.
"I have heard the caregiver asking: ‘What help is available to assist seniors who require support with daily living? How do I navigate the maze of services and resources in this endeavor, and how do I remain spiritually and emotionally healthy in the process?' These are questions similar to what I was asking when I was trying to help my own parents a few years ago, first to maintain their independence as long as possible, then to help them transition to an independent living setting," he said. "Today they are both happy and well-cared for."
Identifying and meeting the needs of the estimated 3.1 million caregivers in Texas often determines whether the person requiring care can remain at home. Yet, as in the rest of the nation, Texas caregivers tend to be under-prepared for their role. The informal caregiver system is experiencing increased stress as the pool of family caregivers shrinks and the average age of caregivers increases. The Office of Aging is often called on to assist and educate individuals and family caregivers in parishes around issues surrounding access to services and caregiver support.

"I view this ministry as a continuation of more than 30 years of my pastoral and educational work, which has centered on helping youth and adults realize Christ's redemptive love reinforced by their community of faith. My efforts will focus on connecting caregivers with the support services and education necessary to address the various needs of those seniors in their care," Ciesielski said. "This includes providing spiritual and emotional care for the caregivers themselves. In addition, training opportunities will enable parish leaders to engage parishioners in more effective support of caregivers and those seniors entrusted to their care."

According to Bingham, caregiver and family support significantly impacts the ability of older individuals to remain at home as long as possible. Continued participation in the communal life of the Church is impacted by extended family caregivers being able to support and care for aging parents.

"Since this demographic group is generally still engaged in the workforce, our efforts will reach out in flexible ways including weekend or evening meetings, group/seminars, utilizing social media and providing opportunities for spiritual development," Bingham said. "This target group is bearing much of the burden of family caregiving as we encounter more of our older adults living longer and in poor health or suffering from Alzheimer's disease and other dementias; families look to their parish community for information and support. Through this expansion in focus, the Office of Aging can assist parish leadership with developing and implementing programming focused on specific, identified needs to support aging and older adults."

Outreach to Boomers
"Boomers grew up as a generation testing the known limits: civil rights, space exploration, advances in medicine and technology," Ciesielski said. "As they approach retirement, they remain passionate about wanting to make a difference with the second half of their lives. The word ‘old' does not resonate as a self-label. Most are healthy, energetic and want their voices to be heard and their wisdom shared." 

Ciesielski indicated that the ministry will concentrate on collaborating with other Chancery offices and parish leaders where Boomers' lives of faith can be shared and enriched through prayer and ongoing faith formation, service and mentoring, social engagement, and education in financial stewardship and healthcare issues.