Caregiving: The Long and Short of It

Article excerpt

Dear Mr. President:

My heart has always gone out to family caregivers, as a granddaughter, and a professor of social work, a director of a state office on aging, a past chair of the American Society on Aging board, the immediate past U.S. assistant secretary for aging - and always as a daughter, spouse, mother and friend.

Family caregivers experience a gamut of emotions: love, joy and gratitude, as they care for a parent, spouse or child -along with fear, exhaustion and struggle, as they give care alone or strive to afford and engage help.

Most policymakers have consistently skirted the issue of long-term care. Many legislators realize its enormous, inescapable human and financial costs too late - when they are confronted with long-term care responsibilities or need such care themselves. Families, communities, employers and government are not immune to the reality that people age, sometimes need long-term care, and, if they are lucky, have family members who can help them. But family caregiving is hard work, and it occurs in a complex and demanding world.

In 1998, 1 helped introduce the National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) as a proposal in the president's executive budget. We knew then that it would not be enough to meet the needs of our nation's families, but it was a start. Many boomers are already family caregivers, and many more will likely need long-term care in the future. This situation will present significant challenges: Fewer younger family members are available to help, and if they are able to do so, they must juggle work and other responsibilities while expending resources they could otherwise be saving for their own retirement.

As a bridge measure, until a national long-term care policy and program can be put in place, I'd like to recommend four measures your administration could act on now:

* Immediately increase funding for the NFCSP to miake it a potent, available resource for families in all communities throughout the United States;

* Increase funding for the Older Americans Meals Programs to enable elders to live in their communities without the fear of going hungry;

* Restore funding for the education and preparation of geriatrics and gerontology professionals because without help, families will break;

* Support preventive health intervention and awareness programs aimed at achieving the Healthy People 2010 goals to help prevent long-term disabilities. …