Talking Senior Care: Insights from the White House Conference on Aging

Did you have a chance to catch the 2015 White House Conference on Aging?

I’m glad I had the opportunity, though it was via live streaming rather than in person.

Some family caregivers attended virtually, including in organized listening groups, but we know many of you did not have a chance to do so and want to update you on the event.

This conference was greatly anticipated, as it comes only once every decade and opens dialogue about policies and programs which provide much needed assistance to all our senor loved ones and eventually for us as well.

While it won’t have a big immediate impact on the lives of our senior loved ones, it shines a light on programs and may set the stage for future action.

All Encompassing Topics

The topic areas for this conference were all encompassing, including elder abuse, technology and the future of aging, financial security, and intergenerational connections.

Panelists took a few questions from the live audience as well as the virtual audience, since for the first time in history many viewers streamed the conference live via the internet and participated in the social media conversation.

Naturally the comments by panels of experts were not limited to just those topics, as we heard about nutrition, seniors in the workforce, paid caregivers, and diversity.

We heard announcements about new programs as well as the many accomplishments made by current programs in addition to learning about the anniversaries of the government programs that benefit our seniors.

Did you know Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act all turn 50 this year and Social Security turns 80?!

President Barack Obama delivered his remarks in a keynote address and shared his vision of aging for the future. The Surgeon General was also on hand to talk about how activities, especially intergenerational ones, can impact healthy aging.

Let’s recap the key points from the 2015 conference.

New Program Announcements

Government officials and industry experts were on hand as panelists or speakers to address the latest new programs, initiatives and services that will be coming soon to help improve the quality of life for seniors.

Here are highlights:

  • Soon to be piloted in 20 areas is a new program that will allow seniors to ‘pay’ for Meals on Wheels or programs that deliver food to homebound seniors using SNAP benefits. The farmer’s markets across the country continue to accept the SNAP benefit.
  • The President announced his office will be taking steps to ensure that all Americans have the tools they need to prepare financially for the future because many Americans are unprepared for retirement. Social Security benefits should be one piece of the retirement plan with other sources of income to fully meet aging needs. It begins with retirement advisers helping people first and not themselves according to the President.
  • The President has proposed that access be made available to workplace-based retirement savings for 30 million Americans by requiring employers not currently offering a retirement plan to automatically enroll their workers in an IRA. This has not been passed by Congress but states are moving forward with this initiative.
  • The government launched to help families, caregivers and seniors find a one-stop place to gain information about federal programs, local services and community resources as well as Social Security and Medicaid.
  • New nursing home regulations to improve the quality of life of many seniors were proposed to provide some needed reform in caring for elders who are residents of long term care facilities.
  • The Department of Justice will support funds to be used by crime victims including elder abuse. The President also announced that there will be training for judges about elder abuse so that is can be better prosecuted. They will also train state and local prosecutors and law enforcement officers.
  • The Dementia Friendly America Initiative plans to expand to 15 more pilot sites across the country to help cities become dementia friendly cities. They increase dementia awareness and support people with dementia and their families.
  • Technology leaders are challenging manufacturers to create user-friendly technology for older adults that will improve their lives and those of family caregivers.
  • Uber has announced a new program that will partner with senior community centers to provide free transportation to support independence.
  • Walgreens is stepping up digital technologies to connect individuals with telehealth services and providers to allow 24/7 access to doctors.
  • Peapod will enable web access to all individuals including those with disabilities who are unable to shop at traditional stores to purchase food via the web.
  • Honor, a tech company, will offer $1 million in free home care across 10 cities in the US to ensure care goes to deserving older Americans.
  • The YMCA has challenged its national associations to host intergenerational physical activity events to increase physical activity for all ages. Another way that we will see more emphasis on physical activity for seniors is through the National Institutes of Health program Go4Life campaign for older adults.
  • The Health and Human Services department is offering education for health professionals to improve the statistics of falls in the senior population. It has also offered $35 million to improve geriatric care education for health care workers to meet the needs of the aging population.
  • Numerous flyers, tip sheets and handbooks are forthcoming from both the public and private sectors to educate and support seniors and caregivers.

Key “Soundbites”

Moderator David Hyde Pierce, who is an ardent Alzheimer’s disease advocate, stated “to age is to live and to care is to be human.”

President Obama stated his belief that “one of the best measures of a country is how it treats its older citizens.” He also said, “I’m going to keep fighting to make family leave and workplace flexibility available to every American, no matter where they work.” “It’s the right thing to do.”

Secretary Tom Vilsack of the US Department of Agriculture shared that “only 45% of seniors eligible for SNAP participate in SNAP,” the supplemental nutrition assistance program (formerly food stamps).

Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations, which advocates for home care workers and family caregivers, stated that we have to “shift our culture to see caregivers as a huge part of the solution for quality of life” for seniors. Ms. Poo also pointed out that “we need to acknowledge the diversity of our aging population” and family caregivers – we are different in ages, abilities, cultures, or LGBT and we therefore will need individual solutions. There shouldn’t be a one size fits all approach.

A member of the live audience who was commenting on paid family leave coined a new phrase when she said we need paid family leave ‘from twinkle to wrinkle”. Many advocate a similar family leave plan for caring for older adults that we now have for those caring for babies.

Harry Leider of Walgreens reported that the average older adult goes to the pharmacy and gets prescriptions filled twenty times in one year, which is more often than they visit their primary physician. The pharmacist is a key member of the healthcare team that is poised to help the family caregiver and may also be able to spot elder abuse in frequent customers.

Don’t Wait 10 More Years

The one day conference was the culmination of regional forum meetings held across the country as well as input from many stakeholders including seniors and caregivers.

There have been webinars and events that have sought input from a variety of sources in order to get to the meat of the matter about what really needs improvement and what seniors need for healthy aging.

Senior Care Corner applauds this effort but hopes that the dialogue which is now open will continue to move us all forward and not wait until the next White House Conference on aging in 2025. Much has been done to shine a light on what essential services are desired and what the private sector can do to support aging in America.

We need to ride the tide and keep improving all aspects of aging that began at this conference to truly be a country proud of the result when it is measured by its concern for its older citizens.

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