Growing older in Washington can be perplexing, to say the least. For the young and younger, it can mean adventure and independence. For the old and older, it can mean fear and trepidation.
Typically, growing older can mean financial hurdles, health problems, loss of independence and in general, a fear of what the future holds. Somehow we must, as a society and government, change that outlook from fear to optimism.
Washington has many groups and organizations that deal with the prospects of growing old. One such group is Gov. Jay Inslee’s Washington State Council on Aging. This group advises the governor and secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on all things that concern the aging population of our state.
The primary dividing line for citizens is the age of eligibility for Medicare. For those who are pre-Medicare, many are struggling to pay for health care, even if they have insurance. Those who are eligible for Medicare have a safety net to pay for much of that care, but not all. The consequences that exist in both of those categories can be life changing.
As a society, it is important how we live our lives before and as we approach that age, so we can be prepared for those consequences of growing and being older. Our eating, exercise and drinking habits have huge risks/rewards as we age and can directly affect the quality of life in our extended years.
The Council on Aging meets monthly to address important issues that affect our citizens. These range from short and long term managed care, elder abuse, elder fraud, diseases like Dementia and Alzheimer’s, Medicare/Medicaid and many many more.
There is no shortage of these issues or examples that face families and individuals, but education is the first step in finding solutions. This past legislative session had some disappointments in crucial health and human service programs. One such example is an increase in penalties for the financial exploitation of older adults that failed to materialize.
On the other hand, a significant success was the passage of the Caregiver Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act. Washington is the 22nd state to pass this act. It is a common-sense solution to help those caring for their older mothers, fathers, husbands, wives and other loved ones so they can live independently. This ensures family caregivers have key support as those loved ones go into the hospital and then transition home. This involves training to help that transition, what to expect and how to manage all of the hurdles of home care.
Providing long-term service and support will help keep people in their homes longer and out of expensive assisted or full time nursing care facilities, saving everyone significant money and patients being more happy with familiar surroundings.
Unpaid caregivers have a unique set of issues because those who, for all the right reasons, make that commitment often find it time consuming and expensive. Caring for the caregiver is important. In many cases, if that caregiver can no longer function, the alternatives for care can be very expensive and often times demeaning.
The alternative to growing older is not good. One must be strong to achieve that status. So being prepared, informed and educated is paramount to success. The Washington State Council on Aging is a great resource and advocate for all citizens who need, want and utilize our help.
Phillip Lemley is a member of the board of directors, Washington State Council on Aging. He lives in Richland.