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There is no question that Napa County is aging – and fast.

According to the Census Bureau, the percentage of the county’s population who are 65 and over has risen from 15.1 percent in 2010 to 18.1 percent in 2016. The percentage of youths, those 18 and younger, meanwhile, has dropped from 23.1 percent to 21.3 percent.

County officials believe that these figures probably understate the case, and that the number of seniors may well now exceed the number of youths in the county.

This swift shift has put pressure on our social safety net as government and non-profits struggle to deal with the specialized needs of older adults, who face physical and mental health problems, including dementia, and are vulnerable to physical and financial abuse by their supposed caretakers, on whom they become increasingly dependent.

Fortunately, Napa County is stepping up to improve the delivery of these services, adding resources in the county Health and Human Services department and better coordinating among the local, state, and federal agencies, private companies, and non-profits that constitute our large but traditionally fragmented network of senior-oriented services.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board met this week with several key players in this effort, including Health and Human Services, the Area Agency on Aging, and Collabria Care, a non-profit that has agreed to be a one-stop point of contact for seniors, families and caretakers who need help figuring out where to turn for assistance.

They painted a hopeful picture, of a system that had once been overwhelmed by the flood of Baby Boomers entering older age, but is now beginning to adjust, including additional staff and resources in the Adult Protective Services office and the office that handles legal affairs for older persons no longer able to fend for themselves.

The task now is to get the word out to seniors who may need help—and also to the people who love them.

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To that end, these groups have established a hotline for seniors, families and caregivers to call: (707) 253-4248 or toll-free (800) 510-2020. Workers from Collabria Care will take the calls, but they are located in the county’s Health and Human Services offices, so they can quickly connect callers to a wide variety of services. This is the first time the county has had a local point of contact since budget cuts a decade ago forced the county to rely on a regional hotline based in Vallejo.

They have also established the Napa County Network for Aging and Independence, the local version of a state-wide senior-serving website project, at NapaNAI.org. This website attempts to answer a wide variety of common questions, and to collect and catalog all the services, public and private, available to seniors.

It can, for example, answer questions about medications and fall prevention, allow families to search for companies that provide reliable caregiver services, or direct people to ways to report suspected fraud and abuse. It has a library of documents and simple tools, such as an interactive form to look at physical and mental symptoms an aging adult might experience and suggest avenues for getting professional medical advice.

We commend all of these agencies for this effort and we urge anyone interested in senior issues, whether you are an older person yourself, a caregiver, or a family dealing with older relatives, to make use of these resources.

We also urge those of you who are dealing with age-related problems not to be afraid to ask for help. The county Health and Human Services department was emphatic in explaining that they are not a coercive agency – a visit from Adult Protective Services is not a ticket to a nursing home. “We are not going to make you do anything you don’t want to do,” Deputy HHS Director Kris Brown said several times during our meeting.

Instead, she said, APS sends trained social workers to assess a person’s situation and suggest social services or other avenues of help. If there is evidence of abuse, of course, they must notify law enforcement, but APS has neither the authority nor desire to forcibly take over the affairs of any senior, she said. They want older residents to experience the best possible quality of life and to remain connected to their homes and communities for as long as possible.

The county and other agencies appear to be doing a good job trying to beef up their services for older residents. Let’s make sure our older neighbors and family members are able to take advantage of these services and remain healthy and productive for the rest of their lives.

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The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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