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Carolyn Mendez-Luck, left, and Karen Hooker will be giving a presentation on caregiving for the elderly on Monday at Science Pub. (Andy Cripe | Corvallis Gazette-Times)

Science Pub will address issues for caregivers of aging baby boomers

Today, about 13 percent of Oregon’s 3.9 million people are older than 65, but we’re caught in the middle of a demographic landslide: By 2050, the estimate is that a quarter of Oregonians will be 65 and older.

And, as the age of the population increases, so do the demands on our caregivers.

A pair of researchers from Oregon State University who study caregiving will offer their thoughts and perspectives on the issue during Monday’s Science Pub Corvallis event.

The event is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the Old World Deli in downtown Corvallis. Admission is free.

The speakers are Karen Hooker and Carolyn Mendez-Luck of OSU’s College of Public Health and Human Sciences.

Hooker is the Jo Anne Leonard endowed director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research at OSU. She’s researched caring for people with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, among other topics.

Mendez-Luck is an assistant professor of human development and family sciences as well as health management and policy. She has studied family caregiving and aging-related health disparities in Latino families.

The two will offer some general observations to set the stage — one of their PowerPoint slides in the presentation features “then and now” photographs of the Rolling Stones to hammer home the point about an aging population — and then will discuss some of their own research.

In an interview last week, Mendez-Luck said the two also hope to engage audience members in a discussion about caregiving issues.

And those issues likely will run the gamut – especially considering the increasing number of baby boomers who are caught caring for both minor children and aging parents at the same time.

That’s just one of the ways that changing demographics are affecting the caregiving landscape.

Mendez-Luck also pointed to changes in the structure of the American family: For example, she noted, increasing rates of divorce and remarriage are likely to create different family compositions and may have implications on who provides caregiving. (Most caregivers are women.) And declining birth rates in the United States (and the resulting smaller families) may mean that fewer people are available to assume caregiving roles.

That’s particularly important, she said, because 70 to 80 percent of caregiving is still provided by family members — but the roles and responsibilities for caregiving can become blurred in blended or nontraditional family settings.

“I think the real challenge is going to be with these new compositions in the family,” she said.

In any event, she added, the economic impact of that family-provided caregiving is massive: Recent estimates have put its value at $450 billion annually.

“It’s an enormous figure,” she said, and it begs an important question: As a society, “Do we value it?”

If so, how is society, including government, going to provide assistance to ensure that caregivers get the help they need?

“I’m kind of an optimist,” Mendez-Luck said. “As baby boomers get older and will require care, there will be more of an outcry for structural support to help caregiving families.”

But, she said, that optimistic note comes with a caveat:

“I think it will be really hard going for families until we reach that critical mass.”

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Mike McInally is the editor of the Democrat-Herald. He can be reached at 541-812-6097 or mike.mcinally@lee.net