Connecting supporters of aging in place with advocacy for the disabled is the wave of the future for senior long-term care, government agency chiefs said in a keynote speech at a conference on aging.
It will take all the different segments of the senior long-term care industry and supporters of aging in place to ally aging and disabilities, said Kathy Greenlee, U.S. Assistant Secretary for Aging and Administrator of the Administration for Community Living (ACL) of the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA).
Greenlee made the prediction during the second of a two-part presentation, titled “Aging and Disability, the Alliance of the Future: Long Life in the 21st Century,” at the American Society on Aging’s “Aging in America” conference in downtown Chicago.
“If you are advocating for [the] disabled, [continue to] do it,” she said. “If ACA [the Affordable Care Act] is your middle name, stay that way. If you are passionate about helping people with intellectual disabilities, please stay [that way].”
Joining aging and disabilities advocacy, Greenlee said, means connecting the treatment of chronic disease, caregiving, the high cost of health care, home-based community care (HCBCs), palliative and hospice care.
“[There must be] an alliance of the [issues of the] elderly and the disabled,” she said. “[We must] align programs that support care and [meet] needs. [This means embracing new] challenges, transferring medicine to management of care, changing state government [policy], creating new conversations and [fostering] new changes in communities.”
Greenlee said policymakers and stakeholders should determine what role Medicare and Medicaid can play and how the provisions of the Older Americans Act and the American Disabilities Act can be interpreted and reconciled to support this alliance.
“The healthcare system [can work with] home [health] care,” she said. “[The Area Agencies on Aging can work] with Medicare. [There might be a comparison between what] charity gives [in terms of funding and technical assistance to this alliance] versus [the contribution of] Medicare vendors. [It is a] huge conversation. [You would have to discuss, too] Parkinson’s, paralysis and diabetes.]”
Greenlee mentioned as a potential example of alliance building, the late actor/filmmaker and disabilities crusader Christopher Reeve, who founded and chaired in 1999 his own national nonprofit, the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation, and created the Paralysis Resource Center, which offers resources on spinal cord injury, paralysis and mobility-related disabilities and entered a cooperative agreement with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to make information and other forms of assistance readily available to those who need most. Reeve, who was stricken with a spinal cord injury after a horse-racing competition in 1995, died of a heart attack in 2004.
She prescribed similar partnerships with government agencies, nonprofits and foundations.
“We have HHS and HUD,” Greenlee said. “[They] think we don’t do housing but HHS does. HUD [addresses] senior housing. [Meanwhile] people [are] screaming in [different] states, ‘We have no one to talk to about housing [and seniors].’”
She also added that the role of caregivers in allying aging and disabilities raises questions.
“[Caregivers are in the] workforce,” Greenlee said. “Who will provide care? How can we support direct care? How do we train? How do we [introduce] geriatrics? [The] role of family of caregivers is essential. What is [the] future of caregivers and seniors? We can work on [this] together. It is unleashed potential.”
Gerard Van Spaendonck, general manager and the senior vice president of Philips Healthcare in Boston, the global home monitoring and home health care medical devices solutions segment of the company, said technology will play a role in caregiving.
“Getting older does not mean we get less productive, less active [and] less well,” Van Spaendonck said. “Families [are] changing their roles in health care. Private policies and changing standards of age [are affecting] families, friends and broader communities. You can’t help getting older but you don’t need to get old.”
He said companies like his merge wireless communication and telephones so that seniors can engage with loved ones, friends, government agencies, nonprofits and businesses outside of their homes. Philips’ own line of products include Lifeline Go Safe to help with falls, assisted GPS, WiFi entries, intelligent bread crumbs and two-way voice communication.
“Some seniors stay connected [because they are] frightened. [They are] falling, the streets [are becoming less] safe [and] they are getting lost [when suffering from dementia]. This does not mean [social] isolation but innovation. New technology [can] improve lives. [It will] help seniors live in their own homes.”
Greenlee said policymakers and stakeholders should be encouraged to think unconventionally in order to link aging and disabilities.
“[There is] common space [to] work on these issues,” she said. “Just because [something] does not have [the word] ‘aging’ in its title does not mean it’s not [about] aging.”
Greenlee also said that elder abuse should also be part of the conversation.
“Ask yourself questions,” she said. “ Are the people I serve abused? Do I know who they are?”