Office of Aging takes papal words of wisdom to heart

January 12, 2016

HOUSTON — When it comes to the quality of care of older Americans, age 65 and over, the Office of Aging of the Archdiocese takes to heart the words of wisdom by Pope Benedict XVI: “It’s beautiful to be old…The quality of a society, I’d say a civilization, is judged by how well it treats its elderly.” (November 2012, Rome).

In response to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop’s (USCCB) Pastoral Plan, the Office of Aging focuses on provided quality care and services for seniors: Its mission is to develop collaborative relationships with other Archdiocesan departments to identify and provide resources and opportunities for adult formation responding to the various life stages and cultural needs of aging and older adults. This ministry is one of 60 supported by the Diocesan Services Fund (DSF).

“We continue to support pastors and parish groups in developing their senior adult ministry, but our ministry often happens in little pastoral ways, such as one-on-one with people who may no longer have family,” said Katherine Bingham, director of the Office of Aging. “It may seem a small thing to some, but helping a senior with vision problems to print out his boarding pass for a Christmas trip to visit family, or making and sharing a cup of coffee with a lady who is without family and depressed during the holidays, or helping ferret out the best and cheapest Medicare Part D plan for someone with few coins to spare; the Office of Aging reaches out where we are needed and do what we can.”

Bingham said the ministry also currently addresses caregiving issues a little more intently since many seniors in the Archdiocese are aging and their adult children are tasked with arranging and/or managing their care. Statistics provided by the Administration of Aging demonstrates that this group of “mid-lifers” is quickly growing: Between 2003 and 2013, the population age 60 and over increased 30.7 percent from 48.1 million to 62.8 million, and the number of Americans aged 45 to 64, who will reach 65 over the next two decades — increased by 20.7 percent between 2003 and 2013.

“Our office often fields calls from these adult children asking about housing, skilled nursing care, and ways to address family conflict in caring for aging parents,” Bingham said. “This target group also 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 and look to their parish community for information and support. Our office maintains a close professional relationship with the local chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association to facilitate ease of information and service referral.”

Bingham said the needs of seniors vary based on life circumstances; however, the ministry frequently receives requests for information on affordable and accessible housing, as well as assistance with locating affordable and trustworthy caregivers to assist elders with their desire to age in place.

Since healthcare is generally a major concern for seniors as well, the Office of Aging works with seniors throughout the fall Medicare “open enrollment” period to educate them on changes and help evaluate their current plans to assess changes they would like to make that will improve their access to care and be more cost effective.

“This year, with some changes in Social Security, we have received calls regarding increased Medicare costs in 2016 and the difficulties some women may face in light of the changes around filing for certain spousal benefits,” said Bingham. “Women are at a particular risk since many of them are of a generation where they served as primary caregivers of children and family members; as a result, they are lacking in the financial security offered in workplace pensions and health and retirement plans.”

Bingham said the Office of Aging works closely with St. Dominic Village; the director of the Office of Aging serves on the Board of the Village offering insights into the needs of frail, community-based older adults. The Office of Aging also is increasing partnerships with like-missioned organizations, such as Catholic Charities and San José Clinic, to build a network of referral sources and resources in the Archdiocese to assist older adults and their families. The Office of Aging’s newsletter now carries two new sections: one from Pope Francis to let seniors know what the Holy Father is saying to the community, and an “Around the Archdiocese” section, which acquaints seniors with the various programs and services offered in the Archdiocese.