Our nation is facing a crisis in aging as we attempt to understand and prepare to meet the needs of the millions of older adults, current and future.
The dialogue is taking place across the country at both the national and state levels as our government attempts to alter policy that will provide needed services to aging adults.
Did you realize that our government programs are also aging? Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act turn 50 this year and Social Security celebrates 80 years.
How can these programs continue to be sustainable and relevant to meet the demands of our aging citizens?
The first White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) was held in 1961, with subsequent conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. These conferences have helped develop aging policy.
The 2015 Whitehouse Conference on Aging
The Whitehouse Conference on Aging is opening the dialogue. They have been holding regional forums to bring together those people who can create policy and carry forward programs that will help all aging adults.
“The White House Conference on Aging represents an important step in working to ensure that Americans throughout the lifespan have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, make choices about their daily lives, and participate fully in community life. In addition, the Conference is designed to assist the public and private sectors to be responsive to the needs of a diverse aging population and to promote the dignity and independence of and expand opportunities for current and future generations of older persons and their families.”
For 2015, four main topic areas have been chosen:
- ensuring retirement security
- promoting healthy aging
- providing long-term services and supports
- protecting older Americans from exploitation, abuse, and neglect
In the past Congress has set the agenda but this year the organizers are seeking stakeholders, including the public, to work together to decide what is important and what issues need addressing in the next decade.
There are listening sessions so that caregivers, families, and advocates can learn remotely and participate.
You can add your voice at the WH Conference on Aging Website.
Many Americans worry whether they are setting aside the right amount of money to fully cover their needs after retirement.
With the increase in longevity, our nest eggs may not be sufficient. Many seniors’ pensions have deteriorated with the economic changes of the past several years as well.
Since 1980, many workers no longer receive pensions, as the business world has moved to defined contribution plans instead of defined benefit plans. Also many people no longer work in one place over the life of their career to qualify if a pension or other savings plan were to be available.
Today it is up to the individual to plan for the future.
Unforeseen costs of aging, including healthcare and home maintenance issues, may put our retirement savings in jeopardy. Many experts agree that we are insufficiently prepared for retirement, with minimal assets such as a pension, savings, IRAs and other finances.
It is estimated that 38 million working-age households have no retirement account assets.
More and more seniors and caregivers are looking for ways to leverage their assets in a variety of ways in order to have money now instead of leaving a legacy. Unfortunately home equity was affected by the housing crisis in 2007-2010. Many people owe more in mortgages than the value of their home.
What advice or programs can be implemented to help us all forecast more efficiently how to plan for retirement and how we can protect our nest eggs from scams and criminals?
America’s population is living longer and hopefully healthier lives as a result of research and medical advances. We can prevent many chronic diseases and manage those that we do have more effectively with attention to our well-being. We need frequent health screenings and preventive care as well as opportunities to pursue a healthy lifestyle.
How can our communities support healthy aging — are they age friendly and livable?
- Will there be safe and walkable communities where most of us live so that we can remain physically active?
- Is there adequate access to senior housing and transportation in our communities?
- What needs to be put in place to make this possible?
Healthy aging will require access to healthcare, transportation, housing, opportunities for socialization and volunteerism and perhaps even jobs for seniors. Can incentives be put in place to encourage older workers to stay in the labor force for their own and the community’s economic benefit?
Long-term Services and Supports
The majority of seniors say they want to stay in the home of their choice for the rest of their lives if possible. What happens if they are unable to do so? Will there be affordable, safe and acceptable solutions to living alone at home?
If they are able to remain independent at home, what community programs are available to support them? Are there enough home care providers to take care of them? Is there access to food and meals if they can’t make their own? Can they get to the resources that are in place for them?
How will we handle the ever increasing number of people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia who need care and their caregivers who need our support? How can we make our communities dementia friendly?
Can we make strides in palliative care so that more people choose to be treated using this approach and have access to it so that pain and suffering could be reduced in turn improving seniors’ quality of life? Persistent pain will limit older adults’ ability to age in place and have a good quality of life.
As more elders move to home care models instead of institutions, how will we care for the caregivers and find ways to provide them with viable respite care?
Many seniors are vulnerable to factors around them that are harmful. There are criminals lurking who want to take their money or their possessions. The criminals may be their own caregivers or others they trust. They are being physically, psychologically, sexually abused, neglected and exploited.
How can they express their fears and injuries? Who can they tell to get protection from abusers? How will we protect those seniors with dementia who are most vulnerable to abuse?
The Elder Justice Act was enacted to provide protection under the Affordable Care Act in 2010 because it is viewed as a major public health concern. It attempts to identify seniors who are being mistreated, creating elder services and policies to prevent abuse.
How will we pursue the goals of this Act and institute needed safeguards? How can we measure the prevalence of this greatly underreported problem? How do we measure the effectiveness of the current programs? How do we reduce mistreatment of the growing number of seniors in facilities which is thought to be more common than we comprehend?
Exploitation and abuse of seniors occurs more than we realize and there need to be safeguards and programs in place to protect them before they are abused as well as afterwards for recovery.
A Future of Meeting Seniors’ Needs
The Whitehouse Conference on Aging is a beginning, merely a starting point. It requires many stakeholders from the federal government, insurance companies, regulatory agencies, local government, community and faith based organizations and caregivers to come together to create agreeable solutions.
That is just the beginning of the list of those that need to be involved to achieve what seniors need and deserve.
It won’t happen overnight, but it has to be underway because the population is aging.
Solutions are needed now.
We can’t wait for someone else to step in and make everything alright.
We all have to be involved in the dialogue to create the roadmap that will meet the needs of our seniors and eventually all of us.