I was recently invited to attend a White House Conference on Aging Forum here in Seattle (sponsored in part by the AARP), where I listened to Federal and local politicians and others talk about what needs to be done to address the needs of the increasing aging population ("The Age Wave"), and then, in small groups, I was given an opportunity to also weigh in.
The Federal priorities regarding aging that were discussed at the White House Conference on Aging Forum are Healthy Aging, Long-term Support and Services, Retirement Security and Elder Justice.
What I came away with was...that when it comes to aging,
there is some good news and some bad news.
The good news is we get old.
Which is a good thing when you think of the alternative. We are living longer than those before us.
However, the bad news...
Bette Davis was right. "Old age ain't no place for sissies."
With a longer life comes chronic illness (you live long enough, you are bound to get something), Alzheimer's, financial issues, we don't die as fast and easy (we can be kept alive longer, sometimes to our and our loved ones' detriment), etc.
But despite that, if we are lucky, we will all get old, even those of you reading this now who might be under 40.
And it's never too early to start planning for how you want to spend the last years of your life.
I was invited to the White House Conference on Aging Forum, because I am currently a member of our local Council on Aging. When I retired I wanted to do something meaningful with my time, and issues of aging are of interest to me, not just because I am an old lady, but because of what happened to my mother.
My mother outlived my father by 8 years. For some strange reason she thought she would die first and because of that, she didn't plan to be on her own. However, despite the fact that her children were flung far and wide around the country, she had relatives and friends because she lived in the town she grew up in, and she was physically active, engaged and well until she turned 89. But then she had a stroke that didn't affect her physically, but threw her into a haze of dementia that belied her living on her own any longer. Because there were no affordable services in place to allow her to stay in her own home, she was forced to become indigent to pay for nursing home care and the last three years of her life were not pretty.
My mother was not alone in this. Women are in a particularly precarious situation when it comes to aging. Women who leave the workforce to care for children lose $650,000 in earnings over their lifetime and still only make 78 cents to the dollar that men make when they are working outside the home. That wage gap leads to a Social Security gap. Add to that the fact that women usually live longer than men, and you can see why one in ten older women live in poverty.
So because of my mother and my not wanting to end up as she did, "Aging in Place" is an issue I am very passionate about. If there had been services available for her to stay in her own home for those last three years of her life, she would have been able to die with the dignity she deserved.
But there are also other issues of concern: end of life issues, Social Security, Alzheimer's Disease, lack of savings for long term care, elder abuse and the home care workforce needs.
End of Life Issues
We don't like to think about dying but the best gift we can give our loved ones is letting them know how we want them to handle things if we can't handle them ourselves.
There has been an organized campaign to discredit Social Security by its opponents. So much so that young people actually think it won't be around when they need it. That is not true, but if people think something is not relevant to them, they are not likely to support it, right? So our young people need to be educated about it so they will support it.
Alzheimer's Disease is the only disease that cannot be cured or slowed. If we live long enough, that could be in our future. Continued research is a must.
People should not have to use up all of their resources in order to be eligible for nursing home care or other services. They should be able to "age in place" in their own homes. Home health care workers need to be trained, paid well and given benefits. Being a home health care worker has a bad reputation and it needs to be made a "good job" so home health care will be available to all.
Elders, especially those who are disabled or have had setbacks, need to be protected against scams and fraud, often from their own family members.
So whether you are now 65 or 25, those are the issues we will all face and whether you are 65 or 25 it's never too late or too early to get involved to decide how you want to spend the last years of your life.
But things don't happen on their own.
If you want something to happen, you must advocate.
This year marks...
- the 80th anniversary of The Social Security Act.
- the 50 anniversary of Medicare and Medicaid.
- the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act.
- the 5th anniversary of the Affordable Care Act.
These laws are in place to give older Americans a better life as they age. But they are constantly under attack. If you want a happy old age, you need to protect these important laws and advocate for more long term care and services for our older population, a population that YOU will be a part of one day.
Advocacy is not rocket science. It's just a matter of picking up the phone, writing an email, introducing yourself to your legislators. They are there to work for YOU, so be sure they know what you want.
Thanks to a workshop I took last year from Nancy Amidei, a renowned local advocate and author of the book "So You Want to Make a Difference," I learned some tips (and added some of my own) that can take the mystery out of advocacy and that everyone can do:
1. Sign up with an advocacy group that tracks issues you care about and then do what they ask e.g. write letters or emails in support of an issue, show up at a meeting, etc.
2. Know who your legislators are and introduce yourself to them when they are at home and not in session (when they are not in session they can focus on you).
You can find your U.S. Senators and Representatives here
For local legislators and to find what legislative district you are in in Washington State go here, and for everyone else, just Google "what legislative district am I in" and add your State.
Also call your County Administrative offices and find out who the County Administrator is and the County Council members. Do the same for your city - who is the Mayor and who are your city Council members?
Better yet, call the library.
They can do all of that for you. You want to find out who your U.S. Representative for your U.S. legislative district is, who your two U.S. Senators are, and your State Senator and Representative for your district as well as your local legislators. Get their email addresses if you are comfortable with email or their office addresses if you want to write a letter. Also their phone numbers so you can call them.
When you introduce yourself by phone or in person, say your name, what district you are in and what group you might belong to. Strength in numbers.
If you want some guidance on writing an advocacy letter, check this out. Be sure to include your legislative district so your legislator knows you are his or her constituent.
Find out what committees your State and U.S. legislators are on.
Bills go to committees and that is where they either move forward or are quashed. Does your representatives sit on a committee that affects an issue you care about? If so, yay!
3. Advocacy is only a phone call away.
Call your local Legislative Hotline. You can Google this for your State or again, call your library for the number.
They track issues and will make sure your legislator gets the message. They can also help you understand the legislative process.
4. Advertise your issue at every opportunity.
Have a little 30-60 second "elevator speech" in your head and when you meet with your legislator share it. I can tell my mother's story in 30 seconds. But don't stop there, share it standing in line at the movie theatre, at the grocery store and with your friends while playing cards.
5. Know who to ask and who has the power to make a difference with your issue.
Don't ask the Mayor to protect Social Security and don't ask your State Senator to help you with the barking dog next door.
So there you have it. It's that easy to get involved and make a difference.
However, I don't want to minimize the efforts of advocates. There is much more you can do, too, but if you just did these things - if you just took five minutes to email, call or write your legislator - you will make a huge difference. You can certainly spare five minutes to make a difference, can't you?
But lest you think it's all bad news about getting old. It's not.
With age comes wisdom, deep expertise, a better ability to solve conflicts and a desire and chance to make a difference.
One last takeaway from the White House Conference on Aging:
Regarding health, "Sitting is the new smoking."
So get up off that couch and use your wisdom, expertise and conflict resolution skills to make a difference for your golden years and for those who come after you!
Thanks for Reading!
See you Friday
for my review of the new movie
"Woman in Gold"
The Week in Reviews
(What to See or Read and What to Avoid)
and the latest on
"My 1001 Movies I Must See Before
I Die Project."