Official discusses state plan for caregivers

Hannah Grover
Myles Copeland, New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department Secretary-Designate, speaks Tuesday at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington.

FARMINGTON – As the population of people in New Mexico 80 years old or older increases, the New Mexico Aging and Long-term Services Department has worked to prepare a plan for family caregivers.

Secretary-designate Myles Copeland presented the plan Tuesday afternoon at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center in Farmington.

According to the plan, one in five New Mexicans serves as a family caregiver each year, or approximately 419,000 people. Those caregivers provide 80 percent of all long-term care.

Caregivers spend an average of 18.4 hours a week caring for family members, friends or neighbors.

"The reason that you do that is you love the person," Copeland said.

The plan ultimately aims at connecting family caregivers with resources and support, listing seven goals. They include improving caregivers' access to resources, providing caregivers with proper training, limiting future caregiver burdens, providing support, coordinating care, ensuring support for working caregivers and providing caregivers with access to respite.

Copeland said the average caregiver is between 45 and 64 years old, and 60 percent of caregivers are women.

They can become caregivers slowly over time in circumstances like dementia or they can become caregivers overnight in cases like accidents or strokes, Copeland said.

"Nobody studies, goes to school, to be a family caregiver," he said.

He cited studies that show family caregivers suffer mentally, physically and emotionally, and can also suffer financially.

The average caregiver spends $5,000 to meet the needs of the person they are caring for, Copeland said. He said some of those people are forced to shift to working part-time jobs or leave the work force to provide care.

Myles Copeland of the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department delivers a presentation on the New Mexico State Plan for Family and Caregivers Tuesday at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center.

The care plan doesn't just aim to connect families with resources. It also aims to educate employers to help the caregivers remain in the work force. That includes developing an annual award to recognize the most "family-friendly" employer or employers that focuses on families caring for relatives.

Stephen Dick, the assistant adult programs manager at the Bonnie Dallas Senior Center, said the information Copeland provided was helpful because it connected caregivers with the resources that are available.

"A lot of people are trying to figure it out for themselves," Dick said.

Hannah Grover covers Aztec and Bloomfield, as well as general news, for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652.