When people have trouble caring for themselves, they often turn to family members for help. According to recent studies, as many as 43 million Americans act as caregivers for a close relative. Of those, 19% are older than 65 themselves. More than half cite Alzheimer's disease as the need for constant care.
With the Baby Boomer generation rapidly approaching retirement age, we face some difficult questions: How can we relieve pressure put on the many Americans who find themselves thrust into this role? How can we help them sustain and afford this pattern of care?
To discuss these concerns, the White House held its decennial Conference on Aging last month. After forums with panelists and experts, the administration and several cabinet-level departments implemented key measures to improve assistance to both seniors and caregivers. Here are some we found most interesting:
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) launched Aging.gov -- a website to help older adults live healthy, independent lives. The site also offers information about Social Security, Medicare and resources for caregivers. HHS also plans to develop an Alzheimer's and dementia curriculum to build caregiving skills and assist in timelier diagnoses.
In the private sector, ReACT (Respect a Caregiver's Time), Care.com and MIT joined forces to build tools for workers who also act as caregivers and encourage employers to better accommodate their employees' caregiving duties.
To improve public transportation accessibility for seniors and caregivers, the Department of Transportation will launch the multi-million dollar National Aging and Disability Transportation Center in the fall.
In a similar effort, the Department of Housing and Urban Development will create a new guide on home repairs designed to keep seniors - who increasingly prefer to "age in place" - safe and active.
These measures will go a long way in raising public awareness and activism. And while the state of caregiving in America constantly improves, lasting changes will inevitably come from advancements in medicine. As caregivers selflessly help others, we must work to help them in return.
We need innovative treatments to fight debilitating diseases like Alzheimer's and others that demand close care and supervision. We can accomplish that through an efficient regulatory system, sensible drug policy and streamlined access to health care and medicines. We strongly believe in these ideas and will continue to champion these causes until they become a reality.