In a presidential election cycle full of so many distracting and distressing non-issues, some of the pressing needs of American families have had less attention than they merit. Childcare, the cost of education, and preserving social security and Medicare have all received at least some attention and found a place on the candidates’ websites. Rightly so. These are areas of vital importance to the strength of American families and the nation as a whole.
But how to help families care for seniors has not been a significant part of the national dialogue. Don’t you think it should be? Families receive very little help in the vital task of caring for elders or the disabled. They struggle to fulfill this responsibility in the way they want—with love, compassion and the respect their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles deserve. But they could use some help.
Thankfully, poverty among seniors is significantly lower than it was prior to the passage of the social security act in 1935 and Medicare in 1965. These were major achievements of the 20th century that led to real quality of life improvements for the elderly and families overall.
But neither of these programs directly address the burden on families of providing care for those who need it. What’s more, the past few decades have seen important changes in our economy and family structure that require us to re-think the support families need. Historically, unpaid family labor—largely provided by women—was a resource that we took for granted. That can no longer be the case. Women both want to and, for urgent economic reasons, must be contributors in the workforce.
In addition, improvements in health care mean that we are living longer. For some people these bonus years are healthy and productive, but many others do need care and help.
We need new tools to support seniors and families. I often speak with families who are shocked that Medicare benefits do not cover in-home help for the elderly, or do it on an extremely limited basis. Medicare addresses critical health needs caused by illness and injury and simply isn’t designed to assist someone who needs ongoing help with bathing, toileting or meals.
Yes, if you are hospitalized and discharged home, Medicare will provide very limited (perhaps 4 hours a week), short-term (perhaps 3 or 4 weeks) of home care service by a home health aide. If you need more than that or if you need the help ongoing, you are on your own. Full information about the Medicare home health benefit can be found at https://www.medicare.gov/Pubs/pdf/10969.pdf.
I know from talking with hundreds of family caregivers how many are truly struggling to make ends meet and to provide the best quality care for loved ones.
Are you a family caregiver? If so, what are your needs? In your wildest dreams, what could your local community, or your state and national government do to support you and your family?
What would help you both realize your own potential and fulfill your loving commitment to family?Would it be more paid-time-off for caregiving? More access to information about resources? Being able to accrue social security even when, for caregiving reasons, you are not in the paid workforce? Having more public funding for professional in-home care? More affordable long-term care insurance? More services that come to the home?
Give me your thoughts! You can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Put “Support for family caregivers” in the subject line. Your responses will contribute to the content of future posts.