By Carol Zernial
In late January, the President signed the Recognize, Assist, Include, Support, and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act into law. The new law requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to develop, maintain and update a strategy to recognize and support family caregivers.
As Winnie the Pooh once said, “If anyone would like to applaud, now is the time.”
One of the first steps in what will be an 18-month process is to form an advisory council comprised of family caregivers, older adults, veterans, persons with disabilities, experts in long-term services and support, and other stakeholders. The goal is to expand the practice and support of person- and family-centered care in all health and service settings. They will look at how we determine caregiver needs and plan ahead for critical moments such as the moving from a hospital back to home or to a facility, which will require the input and consideration of both the caregiver and the person receiving care.
It will also address the financial toll on caregivers and workplace issues that prevent many family caregivers from continuing to work. Anyone who stops working to care for an older loved one is giving up more than $300,000 in lost wages and Social Security benefits. Caregivers who need to work need flexibility to schedule doctors’ appointments, to allow for days in the home when nothing is going right, and a schedule that is constantly changing. Information, education, respite options and coordination of care are all part of an initial strategy.
For those of us who are caregivers and work with caregivers, it feels like we finally came above ground into the light. But as anyone who has read the news lately, there are many, many, many competing priorities on the national stage. How do we ensure that caregiving issues are heard?
Family caregivers represent a staggering 25 percent of the population, so there is no reason we should be in the back of the stage or upstaged by other groups. If we truly harnessed the power of our voices, we would rise above the din and noise of so many other issues. Elected officials have caregiving situations in their own families. Men and women of every race and color have caregiving issues. Caregiving is the great equalizer, impacting people of all incomes and all ages.
We have an opportunity to shape the conversation on who will take care of our families and us, who will be there when dementia and Alzheimer’s strike, and what will happen to 74 million boomers as they grow older.
So clear your throats and take your places everyone: It’s show time!
WellMed Charitable Foundation Executive Director Carol Zernial is a noted gerontologist, radio show host, and Chair of the National Council on Aging. The non-profit WellMed Charitable Foundation focuses on complimentary programs impacting seniors and family caregivers, including weekly telephone learning sessions, evidence-based classes on stress reduction and more. Find out more at www.CaregiverSOS.org or toll-free at 1-866-390-6491.