The United States continues to experience “incredible demographic transformation,” according to the Final Report of the White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA), a year-long, nationwide endeavor throughout 2015. In Connecticut, with the nation’s 7th oldest population, input was provided by legislative and executive branch agencies, which held hearings and offered expert testimony from organizations including AARP, the state Department on Aging, Legislative Committee on Aging and Commission on Aging. “No topic attracted more attention in the lead-up and follow-up to the 2015 WHCOA than caregiving. It echoed across all four of the conference issue areas,” the report indicated, referencing the four common themes that emerged as particularly important to older Americans: Retirement Security, Healthy Aging, Long-Term Services and Supports, and Elder Justice. The final report noted the participation, at the Boston Regional Forum, of Connecticut’s Commissioner of the Department of Public Health, Jewel Mullen.
Among the findings in the report, issued by the White House, that will demand the attention of policy makers in the next decade:
- Over 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day, and the fastest growing demographic in the U.S. is women over age 85. The proportion of older adults representing racial and ethnic minorities is also increasing rapidly.
- There is a need to break down the silos between housing, transportation, health care, and long-term services and supports in order to support healthy aging. The United States must also take advantage of an “increasing array of web-based technologies, robotics, and mobile devices” that “help older adults access the services they need, stay connected to family and friends, and remain active and independent.”
- The majority of assistance for older Americans is generally provided at home by informal caregivers, especially family and friends, and are often the “primary lifeline, safety net, and support system for older adults.” Although rewarding, caregiving can be demanding, and “informal caregivers need to be supported and sustained with appropriate resources.”
- With family structures changing as Americans are having fewer children and increasingly moving away from families of origin, the availability of family members to provide care is diminishing. “Direct care is a demanding profession with low wages, long hours, and limited benefits. It is critical for there to be efforts to recruit and retain a sufficient number of direct-care workers to keep pace with the growing need.”
The White House has held a Conference on Aging every decade, beginning in 1961, to identify and advance actions to improve the quality of life of older Americans. In 2015, the United States marked the 50th anniversaries of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. The White House Conference on Aging provided "an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key programs as well as to look ahead to the next decade."
At a public hearing in May at Connecticut's Legislative Office Building, state officials noted that Connecticut is undergoing a “permanent and historic transformation” in its demographics. Statistics released as part of the WHCOA report echoed that observation.
On July 13, 2015, President Obama hosted the sixth White House Conference on Aging, joining older Americans and their families, caregivers, and advocates at the White House and virtually through hundreds of watch parties across the country.
The July event built on a year-long dialogue; the White House Conference on Aging launched a website to share regular updates on its work and solicit public input; engaged with stakeholders in Washington, D.C. and listening sessions throughout the country; developed policy briefs on the emerging themes for the conference and invited public comment and input on them; and hosted regional forums with community leaders and older Americans in Tampa, Florida; Phoenix, Arizona; Seattle, Washington; Cleveland, Ohio; and Boston, Massachusetts. Additional hearings, including those in Connecticut, were shared with conference officials. Individuals and groups participated via live webcast in watch parties held in every State and were able to ask questions of panelists and others via Twitter and Facebook.
The Final Report, completed in late December and publicized by the White House this week, now goes to policy makers at the federal and state level to review findings and consider policy actions to respond the critical issues cited as requiring attention.