La Paz County, where more than a third of residents are seniors, offers test case as more baby boomers nationwide retire
PARKER, Ariz. — Retiree Joyce Baker has always been fiercely independent, living on a five-acre spread in the Sonoran Desert where she wielded a chainsaw to manage the woodland, clambered up a ladder to inspect the roof of her home each year and dispatched rattlesnakes with a volley of shots from her .38 pistol.
But three years ago her now 85-year-old husband, Paul Baker, was diagnosed with dementia. He was subsequently hospitalized after a fall that shattered ribs, and by the time he returned to their remote home, Joyce Baker, 75, found that she could no longer cope.
“I thought, ‘I’ll keep the goals real simple. All I really have to do is keep Paul and me — and our two cats, who are also old — fed, clean and safe’ … But within just a few days, I discovered that those goals are not simple,” said Joyce Baker, who finally reached out for help. “I was literally at my wits’ end, going in circles … You get where you can’t organize your own thoughts, let alone help somebody with Alzheimer’s get organized.”
Baker and her husband are among the fortunate seniors receiving vital home care in sparsely populated La Paz County in far western Arizona, which has one of the highest proportions of residents 65 or older anywhere in the United States.
As of October this year, there has been an eightfold increase in the number of people on the waiting list for adult day health care and respite services like home-delivered meals and help with bathing and laundry — totaling 2,345 for Arizona and 425 in the tri-county area bordering California that includes La Paz County. The elder care crisis in far western Arizona is significant, professionals believe, since it may hold some clues to the demographic challenges faced by the United States as a whole in coming years as millions of members of the baby boom generation reach 65 at a rate of about 10,000 a day.
In response to their needs, the Bakers got help from social services to put handrails in the bathroom to safeguard against further falls and also received freezer-ready home meals delivered to their home, at the end of a dirt road, once a week from the Community Senior Center in Parker, the La Paz County seat, 35 miles away.
“It makes life livable. There’s absolutely no way that I could shop for the food, prepare the food and clean up three times a day,” Joyce Baker said of the help that allows her to remain at home with her husband of 58 years. “If I didn’t have this help, I would be here alone because Paul would be in a facility.”