One “Genius” Perspective on the Elder Care Crisis

The 2014 MacArthur “Genius Grant” recipient, Ai-Jen Poo, is the co-director of the Caring across Generations Campaign and author of the book, “The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America.” While it is common to hear of our aging population as a retirement crisis or the “silver tsunami,” Ms. Poo writes that getting older is not a crisis – it is a blessing.

Elder Care Imbalance

Caring across Generations is a nonprofit organization working to transform elder care throughout the country with a mix of nationwide policy advocacy, social media, and other channels. It is spreading the word about the looming crisis in elder care and ways that our country can avoid it.

There are currently 79 million seniors living in America today, and although the Bureau of Labor Statistics has claimed that personal care aides and home health aides are some of the fastest growing professions if the rate of growth does not by 2050, there will be about three times more families in need of elder care providers than workers prepared to do the work. Ms. Poo’s suggestion is to create millions of jobs that will support elder care needs. She claims that this can be done by making elder care professional, highly valued, and trained.

Training Care Workers

Ms. Poo claims that training elder care workers can save families and society an enormous amount of time and money. “As people live longer, there are issues about managing chronic illnesses and hospital admissions. Training family and paid caregivers can reduce the costly aspects of our medical delivery system. What better prevention than quality health care? At the front end, training is an investment that creates cost savings and efficiencies in the long term.”

One of the biggest problems is that Medicare does not currently pay for custodial care at home or in nursing home facilities. However, seventy percent of seniors over the age of 65 years will need some kind of help with daily living activities before they die. Ms. Poo has stated that Medicare reimbursement structures are not aligned with the current needs of elders today. The program is not thinking about the quality of life, which will affect Medicare in the long run.

Family Responsibilities

In her book, Ms. Poo stated that families have their own responsibility to prepare for their members’ future care needs. She encouraged family members to sit down and discuss two major questions: First, what is our family’s plan for meeting our future caregiving needs? This includes whether we can afford the care we want. Second, what joys could getting older and caring for one another bring? However, at the same time, it is important to remember that it is unrealistic to expect a family to fully absorb the responsibility of caring for an aging loved one.

For one thing, some families there may be a physical distance issue. Another issue for families dealing with care is the sandwich generation of working-aged adults caring for children and aging parents at the same time. There is also a lot to manage when it comes to care, which is why the profession of geriatric care managers is growing. “In the 21st century reality, it’s untenable for many families to go it alone.”

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