TALKING IT OVER
January 6, 1999
Patricia Darlak is a daughter, a mother, a wife and a full-time teacher. She's also a caregiver for her mother, Hazel, who has Alzheimer's disease and came to live with the Darlaks in September.
Because of her dementia, Hazel forgets to eat or drink. So every workday, Patricia rushes home from school during her lunch and planning periods to feed her mother and make sure she takes her medications.
At the White House this week, Patricia talked about the emotional and physical stress she's under. "I've tried to employ someone for a few hours a day," she says, "but caregivers want full-time jobs. There's no place I can go to get the help I need."
Medicare won't pay for Hazel's long-term care, so even if Patricia is able to hire someone to help, she's afraid the cost will force her to delay her own retirement.
Patricia is not alone. Millions of Americans -- most of them women -- take care of aged or disabled loved ones every day. Of these, almost 40 percent are children caring for their parents. And the numbers are growing.
Over the next 30 years, 76 million baby boomers will join the ranks of the retired and the number of elderly Americans will double. By the middle of the next century, the average life expectancy will rise to 82 -- six years longer than today.
For many, retirement is a beginning, not an end. Often, older Americans take up new hobbies, learn new work and perform vital services in their communities. But it's hard to escape the infirmities of old age. Nearly half of all those over age 85 need help with basic tasks, such as eating, dressing and going to the doctor.
Millions -- including 40 percent of those now 65 years old -- require care that only a nursing home can provide. But record numbers remain at home with family and friends, putting more and more working adults in the position of nurturing their children while, at the same time, nursing their aging parents.
We call this group the "sandwiched" generation -- a phrase that doesn't come close to describing the small, daily acts of love and frustration, triumph and worry and hope and exhaustion that are so familiar to those struggling to meet the needs of family members who depend on them.
The decision to provide long-term care at home is rarely easy.
Out-of-pocket expenses can be staggering. Caregivers -- most of whom hold outside jobs -- may have to take unpaid leave or work fewer hours. And, though time spent with an aging or infirm loved one can be precious, it can also be stressful.
I'm proud of my husband and his administration's accomplishments in helping America's parents meet the stresses and demands of work and family. We now have more quality, affordable child care that helps Americans fulfill their obligations as workers and families. Expanded after-school programs enable parents to breathe easier during the afternoon hours. And initiatives that strengthen Medicare and make Medicaid more flexible are helping millions meet their health-care needs.
The President's agenda is aimed at families meeting their most important obligation -- caring for their loved ones. This week's announcement is designed to ease the lives of both caregivers and those who need their help.
The centerpiece of the proposal is a $1,000 tax credit that will support those with long-term needs or the family members who care for them. This initiative would provide much-needed financial support to about 1.2 million older Americans as well as 750,000 disabled adults and children.
In addition, the President will create a National Family Caregiver Support Program, enabling states to build facilities offering a range of services from quality respite care to training, support groups, long-term planning and counseling.
He will also call on Congress to set a national example by offering non-subsidized, quality, private, long-term care insurance to all federal employees.
There is no simple solution to the problem of caring for our aging and disabled loved ones. These initiatives offer a solid first step, and I am gratified by the support they have received from diverse advocacy groups and members of both political parties.
The senior boom is one of the most important challenges our generation and our children will face in the coming century. It is up to us to prove that the infirmities of age need not be the indignities of age. It is up to us to protect our children and grandchildren from the unsustainable burden of caring for us. It is up to us to do everything in our power now to lift the quality of life for every American family.
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