The White House Conference on Aging took place on July 13. The President held the conference in preparation for the impending retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, which is typically described as consisting of the people born from 1946 to 1964. They make up roughly 24 percent of the population in the United States – and the oldest members have already reached retirement age. The conference was intended to do nothing less than prepare the U.S. for the retirements of roughly 77 million people.
Although the average American can live for almost 80 years, older Americans do not enjoy the best health. Eighty percent of seniors have at least one chronic condition like diabetes or heart disease, and 50 percent have at least two. According to the Milken Institute, the total cost of treating the most common chronic diseases is over $1 trillion per year – and that is expected to increase to $6 trillion by 2050.
At the conference, the President described the various issues facing seniors, their loved ones, and their caregivers. As the number of senior citizens grow, the number of professional caregivers will need to keep pace. Researchers at the University of California – San Francisco estimate that at least 2.5 million more home health care aides will be needed by 2030. Obama noted that one way to increase the number of aides is to improve their working conditions and give them flexible hours and family leave.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services proposed a rule to improve the care of seniors in nursing homes. Under the proposed rule, seniors would receive better food and medicine, staff members would receive training in caring for seniors with dementia, and safety rules would be updated.
Attendees at the Conference also proposed a variety of ways to preserve and improve the health of seniors. They announced a variety of initiatives designed to combat Alzheimer’s Disease and improve seniors’ physical fitness. Such initiatives include Go4Life, an exercise and fitness program devised by the National Institutes of Health. The Health Resources and Services Administration announced a new training curriculum for health care workers specializing in treating dementia patients.
The Administration also launched Aging.gov, a one-stop information warehouse that provides information on local, state and federal services dedicated to helping seniors and their caregivers. By September 2015, the federal government will release data about the aging to Data.gov, the site devoted to data generated and kept by federal agencies. They’re also trying to shift focus towards technology as an aid for the elderly, as pointed out by Forbes. On the forefront were services that enable seniors to live easily and safely at their home. Grocery delivery services like Peapod, home security and automation systems like those from ADT, and even a surprising amount of use of the service Airbnb by the 50+ crowd looking to not only save money, but to cash in on unused space. The special sessions on technology clearly ran the gamut and included a discussion on the importance of designing products specifically for seniors, who often have specific physical limitations.
Attendees at the Conference also discussed retirement and the need to help older Americans better prepare themselves for retirement. Currently only 78 percent of full-time workers join employer-run retirement plans and only 57 percent of part-time workers join such plans. Participants noted such plans were more effective when employees were automatically enrolled. Not only do people need help preparing for their retirements, they also need help to make sure they don’t outlive their assets. Seniors need annuities that will provide them income their whole lives.
In addition, most older Americans want to remain in their homes and not move to a retirement home or nursing home. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development published a guide describing the changes an older person might need to make to their home. Similarly, the US Department of Transportation announced plans to establish the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center to make public transportation more accessible to seniors and disabled people.
The aging of the Baby Boomers will affect everybody, as will many of the policies put in place to help its members. Many of those policies and initiatives will also affect future generations. Cures and treatments for the various dementias, for instance, could benefit people for decades to come. Given that, the White House Conference on Aging is vitally important.
Spencer Blohm is a freelance blogger specializing in a variety of subjects. Healthcare, particularly of the elderly, is of special interest to him as he sees the challenges facing his grandparents and parents as they grow older. He lives and works in Chicago.