Each decade for the past 54 years, hundreds of professionals from around the country head to Washington, D.C. to explore the challenges and opportunities facing America's elderly population during what is known as the White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA).
It seems rather fitting that the 2015 conference, held last week on July 13, corresponds with the anniversaries of some of the nation's most transformative policies for those in their later years of life, including the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act, 50th anniversaries of Medicare and Medicaid and the 80th anniversary of Social Security.
Discussing everything from retirement security and healthy aging to long-term services and elder justice, the conference also gave due consideration to caregiving issues and the importance of establishing support systems for the nation's 50 million professional caregivers.
As Ai-Jen Poo, founder of Caring Across America, stressed during a panel discussion moderated by actor and Alzheimer's Association spokesman David Hyde Pierce, we need "to see caregivers as a huge part of the solution for the future, as a huge part of the equation for quality of life" for our elders.
We wholeheartedly agree. And given that the baby boom generation continues to reach retirement age in large numbers, you could argue that, now more than ever, it is of the utmost importance to develop systemic solutions for our nation's mounting caregiver crisis.
A comment from an elderly woman during an AARP regional forum leading up to the 2015 WHCOA speaks volumes about the urgency to not only discuss such issues, but develop and implement action plans that improve the current landscape:
"In 1995, I met Claude Pepper [the late politician and advocate for elderly rights] at the WHCOA," said Belle Likover, "and the thing that strikes me is that the issues are the same issues year after year, decade after decade."
Ms. Likover makes a good point -- and it's important that we pay attention to this; it's not merely a matter of hashing and rehashing the same issues and rotating the faces on the stage that speak about them. It's about taking steps to foster practical change through policies and solutions.
Jewel Mullen, a commissioner in the Connecticut Department of Public Health also noted, "I want to believe that 2015 is that year that, maybe in another decade, people will look back at and say that's when the tide turned."
Here's to turning that tide.