As more than 20 Democratic candidates for president scurry around Iowa looking for a way to stand out from the crowd, here is a suggestion: take the lead on aging issues — the challenges affecting those who are now or who will soon be 65 and over.
1. Aging issues are critically important. They impact the health, financial security and quality of life of over 525,000 Iowans and 55 million Americans.
2. The aging population is growing exponentially. The 65 and older cohort that numbers 55 million today will grow to 82 million in 2040.
3. People 65 and older vote in big numbers. In Iowa, over 75 percent of those 65 and older voted in the 2018 election. That compares to 40 percent of those in the 35 to 49 age bracket.
4. The issues have been given short shrift by elected leaders of both parties for decades. They cry out for attention and action.
In one word, aging issues present opportunity.
Over the years when presidential candidates have been asked what they would do for aging Americans, the typical response has been “We’ll work to preserve Social Security and Medicare.”
That’s a good but woefully incomplete answer. Beyond fixing and improving Social Security and Medicare, the list of aging issues includes:
• The ever-rising cost of prescription drugs.
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• The lack of insurance or savings to pay for the often-staggering costs of nursing homes, assisted living and home care services.
• The desire to live not just longer lives, but better and healthier ones; including the ability to stay in one’s own home and be engaged in one’s community as long as possible.
• A severe shortage of geriatricians, nurses, direct care workers and others needed to serve and support people as they age.
• The need to address the growing plague of loneliness and isolation faced by so many in both rural and metropolitan areas.
• The necessity to help people navigate the horribly complex web of laws, programs, services, and payers that they — at a time of great stress — struggle to deal with as the loss of independence occurs.
• Support for the estimated 40 million informal (family and friends) caregivers who assist adults needing help with daily activities. Many of them are “sandwiched” — dealing with the cumulative pressures of caregiving, parenting, maintaining their health and relationships, and their jobs (six of every 10 informal caregivers are employed).
This is just a partial list, but it shows the scope of the challenges and the need for leadership to address them.
Iowa and the nation are in the midst of an epic demographic shift. It’s been predicted and talked about since the 1980s. It’s an opportunity for a candidate to stand up and say, “We’ve talked enough. It’s time for action. If elected, I’ll lead.”
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Some elected leaders are already taking action. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California recently signed an executive order calling for a comprehensive approach to deal with the dramatic population shifts in his state.
He’s bringing state and local government officials together with advocates, employers, health and long-term care providers, organized labor, researchers, philanthropic groups, insurers, and citizens to create better ways to support an ever-aging population.
What a governor is providing for a state, a president could and should provide for the nation.
Our request to presidential candidates — make aging issues a priority. Provide leadership that brings people together to address the challenge faced by everyone everywhere — how to make life as good as possible as long as possible.
By doing so, they’ll be advancing good public policy that can help millions, and good politics that can help differentiate them from the pack.
Who will respond and how well? We’re anxious to see.
• John and Terri Hale are 60-something Iowans who own The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based advocacy, consulting and communications firm focused on aging and caregiving issues. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org