It sometimes seems as though we’re being constantly bombarded by current events, news items, and media in general. It’s easy to respond by feeling overwhelmed, desensitized, or just plain disinterested. And when it comes to government happenings, in particular, this is even truer: with so many new bills, laws, and legislation frequently being put through, held back, or questioned, it can be near impossible to keep track of everything, and you might just tune things out. But sometimes there are items that we’d all do well to pay attention to. More specifically, there’s been one recent change in legislation that brings further hope to caregivers, older adults, and Americans at large: the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act has big implications—the future of aging in America just got a little brighter.
As the Assistant Secretary for Aging in the USA, Kathy Greenlee released a statement on April 19th, sharing that President Obama signed into law the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2016. Having been on the President’s agenda since July 2015, when it was brought up during the Conference on Aging (held at the White House), the legislation has a direct impact on the well-being of older adults in America. Its demonstration of the level of commitment to caring for older adults is something that affects us all, no matter our age.
Why the Older Americans Act Matters
Beginning back in 1965, under the leadership of President Lyndon Johnson, the Older Americans Act (OAA) was the country’s first-ever initiative to provide in-depth services, programs, and resources for older adults living in America. Since then, OAA has supported older adults across the country with a range of issues Low-income housing, employment and volunteer opportunities, nutritious meals, medical services, outreach for elder abuse, and education on end-of-life options are all part of the OAA’s widespread mission.
It expired about 5 years ago, but last month Congress reauthorized the legislation so it can once again underpin the country’s healthcare infrastructure for older adults. Significantly, the Older Americans Act provides essential funding for many of the country’s aging-related institutions, agencies, and organizations. New efforts are also being put forth, such as this year’s move to “allow state and area aging agencies to use funds for disease prevention and health promotion activities to conduct oral health screenings.” It may sound simple, but details like this can have a huge real-world impact on your aging loved one’s quality of life and ability to have comprehensive health care.
The 2016 reauthorization of the OAA will only help to ensure better care for millions of older Americans, their families, and caregivers. In addition, considering the increase we’re about to see in this older demographic, we have good reason to feel thankful the country has something like this in place for the coming years. In her statement about the OAA reauthorization, Greenlee reminds us that “in a few short years, more than 77 million people will be over the age of 60, and more than 34 million people – mostly family and friends – will be supporting a loved one who is over 60.” With these numbers, we’ll be needing the valuable services and resources provided by the Older Americans Act.
The Values that Drive the OAA
The Older Americans Act is buoyed by compassion, respect, and empathy for older adults, their families, and caregivers. Much of the OAA’s work revolves around supporting older adults’ rights to age in place, remain independent for as long as possible, and maintain their dignity as they age. The projects and services they offer are especially concerned with listening to older adults’ unique voices and valuing them as unique members of society. The OAA opens up room for new dialogue on aging.
Equally important to the legislation’s ongoing impact is understanding the vital roles that both families and caregivers play in supporting older adults and creating a positive aging experience. To age well, it really helps to have the support of family, friends, and medical professionals. Just as influential, perhaps, is the level of support one receives from their surrounding community and the infrastructures currently in place.
Many of the services in America related to health, nutrition, and socialization for older adults and their caregivers were initiated through the OAA. It is such a force because of its national network, which is comprised of “56 State agencies on aging, 629 area agencies on aging, nearly 20,000 service providers, 244 Tribal organizations, and 2 Native Hawaiian organizations representing 400 Tribes.” Not to mention, the OAA offers up opportunities for community service employment aimed to assist older adults with financial difficulties, provides training and research on aging, and protects the rights of vulnerable elders. When institutions and organizations on aging have your best interest at heart, it makes all the difference.
Ultimately, this act affects every one of us—our parents, children, and communities at large. The reauthorization of the Older Americans Act represents the country’s commitment to aging with dignity and respect and the increasing need for continued education on aging-related issues. Whether you’re a family member currently caring for an aging parent, a professional caregiver, or an older adult yourself, this legislation gives a voice to your needs and concerns; it speaks to the issues that you care deeply about.
If you want to explore how to offer even more support to your aging loved one, Institute on Aging provides a variety of resources and programs for you to explore. To learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out to us today.