Sunday, Nov. 24, 2013 | 2 a.m.
The super-charged growth years of the early 2000s brought shinier, grander casinos, rapid housing expansion, new jobs and a lot of seniors to Nevada.
From 2000 to 2010, the Silver State’s population increased 35 percent, tops in the nation. Nevada’s senior population grew even faster. During that period, the number of adults 65 and older increased by 48 percent in Nevada, and the population of people 85 and older increased 77 percent.
As the number of retirees in Nevada continues to climb, and with the growth of communities specifically designed for seniors, one local organization has begun taking a hard look at issues the elderly face, from social isolation to access to transportation and health care.
Nevadans for the Common Good, a coalition of faith organizations that is working to address various social issues in the state, now has set its sights on helping the elderly.
The issue is the second for the group, which burst on the Las Vegas scene with a bang in 2012 with a rally that drew more than 1,000 supporters. Out of that rally and subsequent meetings, Nevadans for the Common Good coalesced around the issue of sex trafficking. Earlier this year, the group successfully lobbied the Nevada Legislature to pass Assembly Bill 67, which targets participants in sex trafficking by making the act a crime. The bill was signed into law in June.
Now the group has begun the fact-finding and research stage of its work on behalf of Nevada’s senior citizens. On Wednesday evening at Ner Tamid Synagogue in Green Valley, Nevadans for the Common Good kicked off its new effort in a community forum to discuss problems seniors face in Nevada.
“Older people suffer a number of losses,” said Pastor Marta Poling-Goldenne of New Song Church. “There is loss of your identity in the world, loss of occupation, loss of a sense of impact, loss of friends and family.”
One issue repeatedly raised: isolation. Shy seniors can be socially isolated when they move to a new town, as many of Nevada’s seniors have done. The elderly are isolated by a lack of transportation, health problems and other factors.
“Staying social is the key to not being vulnerable,” said Jim Long, a resident and association board member in Sun City Anthem senior community. “We found that 80 percent of our residents never set foot in one of our three community buildings. There is no bus service, and cabs are slow to respond."
Nevadans for the Common Good also wanted to reach out to this population to hear its concerns. So the group spent a few weeks developing a door-to-door interview strategy in which volunteers would approach neighbors and members of their congregations to find out ways to improve the lives of seniors.
The group also discussed the needs of caregivers, who are often the family members of the infirm.
“The caregivers are huge,” said Robert Hoo, lead organizer for Nevadans for the Common Good. “When we first started talking about this, we were just thinking about seniors. But there are people who are 30, 40, 50 and say, ‘I’m a caregiver and I’m at my wit’s end.’ There are caregivers who are also seniors. I was talking with a woman the other day who is 87 and she is taking care of her 92-year-old sister.”
Pam Fine, a member of the caregiver support program at the Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, said caregivers often are overlooked in discussions about the elderly.
“Caregivers gets spread so thin, and few are thinking of their needs,” Fine said. “I knew of someone who couldn’t even find the time to take a bath because she was caring for her mother and husband, and she couldn’t leave them alone.”
There is a “huge need” in the valley for respite care, people who relieve caregivers for a few hours, Fine said.
Problems related to the valley’s rapid expansion and the lag in public services also were discussed at Wednesday’s forum. As an example, Hoo referenced Sun City Anthem, built from 1998 to 2008, during the population boom.
“It’s not unique in this valley, a community built around the car. People are going to get older there, and they are going to have problems getting to the doctor, problems getting out of the house, and transportation is an issue. Surely the people who built Sun City Anthem must have a plan,” Hoo said facetiously.
“The people who built Sun City Anthem are long gone,” Long said in response. “When they sold the last house, they were out of there.”
In that case, Hoo said, it’s up to the community to build a constituency across the valley of people who are ready to tackle these serious issues.
The 25 people in attendance agreed to reach out to their friends, neighbors and congregations to help build the coalition, discuss their concerns about seniors and reconvene for another forum in January where the group is expected to begin narrowing its focus and setting its next goal.