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My top takeaways from the Aging in America conference

Respite Care Share AIA 2017

I’ve been at the Aging in America conference all week and it has been sobering and inspiring to be surrounded by so many smart, compassionate, and determined people. There are many battles to fight when it comes to issues surrounding aging and caregiving, but we have an army of advocates ready to fight for those who have been ignored by society and by government for too long.

There were recurring themes that came up at every session I attended. Here are some of the main areas of concern:

  • Health care: While it may be a political issue to those in Congress and to some voters, for those who work with seniors, the disabled, and the poor, health insurance is truly a do or die decision. The concerns about the current administration and the Republican’s proposed ACA repeal plan were explained through data and powerful anecdotal evidence. However you may feel about the ACA, and certainly it is not perfect, with some people hit with skyrocketing premiums and limited choice, there were millions of people who were able to get the treatment they desperately needed, mainly because of the ACA’s expansion of Medicaid. Don’t think you’ll need Medicaid? As one expert put it, with long-term care so expensive and not covered by Medicare, many of us will end up on Medicaid at some point, if we live long enough.
  • Diversity: While diversity can sometimes be an empty buzzword, I found that the attendees of the Aging in America conference take diversity issues very seriously. From how a doctor discusses Alzheimer’s care to a Latino family versus a Caucasian family to senior housing that welcomes the LGBT community, our aging policy must reflect the diversity of our country.
  • Help for caregivers: The issue that I’m most passionate about was also a major topic of discussion at the conference. There are many individuals and organizations dedicated to offering relief to caregivers, in the form of grants and other financial assistance, better training and support, and through respite care. I received positive feedback about my Respite Care Share concept, and I hope through the networking made at the conference, I can help take the concept to the next level.

The conference wraps up Friday, and I hope that the brainstorming that took place in Chicago this week will lead to positive impact in your communities.

 

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Aging in America: Crisis and opportunity

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Photo credit: Pierre Amerlynck/Freeimages

Next week, I’m headed to Chicago for the Aging in America conference.

I look forward to attending sessions and meeting other advocates who are addressing the needs of America’s rapidly aging population. My Respite Care Share concept will be presented as part of the poster sessions. I know I will come away with a lot of takeaways, which I will share here upon my return.

When I think about aging in America in the big picture sense, I see crisis and opportunity. There are multiple crisis points that must be addressed, but each of those crisis points is also an opportunity. And while grassroots efforts can’t solve all of the problems surrounding aging, they can make a real difference.

Some of the major aging issues I care about include:

  • Health care: The affordability and quality of health care for seniors must be addressed. There is much Medicare doesn’t cover, such as residential care for those with Alzheimer’s. The outrageous residential care expenses can quickly bankrupt a middle-class family. Many Medicaid programs are overwhelmed, and facilities accepting Medicaid often have long wait lists and sometimes are of substandard quality.
  • Aging in place: One way to avoid the high costs of residential care is to care for aging loved ones at home. However, that comes with its own costs, such as renovating a home to make is safer and more accessible for seniors, and adult children being forced to leave the workforce or reducing their work hours to take care of aging loved ones. This not only has an affect on the caregiver’s current income and health insurance benefits, but their family budget and retirement outlook as well. The mental and physical toll of caregiving that must be considered as well. Community programs can assist with some of these issues.
  • Professional caregiver shortage: As America’s population rapidly ages, the need for professional caregivers to fill in the gap that families cannot cover is also rapidly growing. Because these jobs pay so little, there is a shortage of quality people for these roles. While spending their days caring for others, many professional caregivers cannot afford health insurance for their own families. My mother’s personal caregiver ended up quitting the field because she couldn’t afford to put gas in her car. If we value caregivers more in the job market, we can fill the staffing shortage and reduce unemployment.
  • Alzheimer’s & other dementias research: I care about supporting the research into all major diseases that claim the lives of Americans. My mother lost her life to colon cancer. But my father’s battle with Alzheimer’s illustrated to me the cruel particulars of this condition, and how the entire family is mentally, emotionally and financially impacted. It’s important that we keep funding research efforts and participating whenever we can in trials and other studies that can help find effective treatment.
  • Family caregivers: Last, but certainly not least, I am a strong advocate for more support for family caregivers. Greater financial support is a must, but at the community level, encouraging caregivers to use respite and simply being a good listener for a caregiver who needs to vent are just as vitally important.

What aging issues are most important to you?

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