As our nation’s population continues to age, it’s important to look at what’s behind the numbers. Not only are seniors growing older, but a bigger percentage are minorities struggling with difficult financial uncertainty. Fewer older Americans today have access to pensions and many have not saved enough to cover basic living expenses that come with living longer.
Recently, I had the pleasure of sitting down with Bob Blancato, national coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition and president of Matz, Blancato & Associates. Bob is a seasoned expert on senior care issues and a well-known advocate for elder justice. He has decades of experience in the healthcare space, including serving as the executive director of the 1995 White House Conference on Aging.
During our talk, we discussed the importance of turning the challenges today’s seniors face into opportunities for successful aging by focusing on four key areas: civic engagement, disease prevention, home-based care services and, perhaps most importantly, caregiving. Caregivers represent a critical component of Successful Aging, comprising family members, non-family members and paid care workers.
“We have to focus our country’s attention on caregiving,” Bob said. “It is the biggest challenge facing our nation right now. Forty-four million families have caregiving responsibilities for their relatives and we’re not prepared for it and we’re not helping our caregivers.”
“With a growing caregiving force that is largely informal, we need to rethink the way we care for our seniors. Right now, only one federal program – the Older Americans Act — and the National Family Caregivers Support Program helps family caregivers,” said Bob. “And today, only $150 million has been designated by the federal government to address the needs of this rising number of caregivers. So the math doesn’t add up.”
Traditionally, caregivers were simply defined as unpaid family members. However, today’s caregivers represent a much larger community of professional and nonprofessional providers that deliver any type of community-based services to aging adults to address a variety of basic needs such as medical and essential activities of daily living.
Presently, there are 45 million aging adults in the U.S., representing 14 percent of the population and this population is expected to grow to 79 million by the year 2030, more than 20 percent of the population. The aging of American’s population causes additional challenges for today’s caregivers.
Many caregivers are facing their own aging issues, addressing their own physical, mental and social challenges, on top of their daily caregiving responsibilities. Now more than ever, it is imperative to launch a comprehensive, cross-disciplinary caregiver initiative – one that meets the needs of both caregivers and the recipients of care.
I look forward to collaborating with Bob, as well as other senior experts, to ensure we put in place the foundational elements of successful aging for all Americans.