After they both retired, my parents volunteered with Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to home-bound elders. Programs like Meals on Wheels have been supported through legislation like the Older Americans Act (OAA), a historic bill that was passed in 1965 to help all of us remain independent in our homes and communities as we age, but which has been overdue for reauthorization (the process by which Congress makes changes to laws over time) since 2011.
Independence is something my friends and I think about a lot now that we are in our 50s and 60s, with many of us caring for our own parents, too. We talk about how we can remain independent in our homes for as long as possible—and legislation like the OAA plays an important role in those thought processes.
As CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, I know that two important pillars to remaining independent in our homes as we age are (1) ensuring we have a workforce that is competent to care for us wherever we may reside; and (2) supporting access to home and community-based services. Many of the programs I will likely need when I am older are funded by the OAA. Recently, key legislation has been introduced by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to reauthorize the OAA. In so doing, this effort will strengthen support that will address elder abuse, evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion initiatives, effective coordination of services at the federal, state, and local levels, and several other challenges confronting older Americans and their health providers.
What the OAA Supports
In this post, I want to highlight three types of services supported by the OAA that have more than likely impacted you or someone you know: nutritional services, supportive services, and programs to assist family caregivers.
These are services that currently support elders remaining in their communities. They are programs that I—like many of us—will need when I’m older.
- The nutritional services supported by the OAA—like the Meals on Wheels programs—ensure the health and well-being of older adults by enhancing access to nutritious food at home and in the community. More than 90 percent of older adults receiving home-delivered meals from programs like Meals on Wheels say this support has helped them to remain in their own homes. In fact, Citymeals-on-Wheels, which operates in my native New York, provides 2 million meals to 18,000 older New Yorkers each year. In addition to nutritionally balanced senior meals, staff from Citymeals and volunteers also deliver vital human companionship—an important added benefit for older men and women who get to enjoy regular visits from people they know and can trust.
- The supportive services authorized by the OAA provide flexible funding to state and local agencies to offer senior transportation programs, information and referral services, case management services, adult day care, chore services, in-home services for frail older adults, and much more. In 2009, for example, this type of support under the OAA helped communities across the country offer nearly 8 million hours of adult day care, some 28 million rides to healthcare professionals’ offices, and upwards of 29 million hours of personal care and homemaker services for older adults in need. It’s especially encouraging to see so many older adults who live alone accessing transportation services: as many of these men and women report, without this important benefit, they might otherwise be homebound.
- The OAA-funded National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) helps older adults age in place by promoting family caregiving and reducing reliance on institutionalization. Specifically, the NFCSP provides grants to states and territories, based on their population aged 70 and older, to fund a range of supports that assist family and informal caregivers who help older adults live at home for as long as safely possible. More than 75% of caregivers participating in programs supported by this provision of the OAA say these services have enabled them to provide care longer than would have been possible otherwise, and an astounding 89% of caregivers reported that program services helped them to be better caregivers.
These are but a few of the vital safety net programs supported by the OAA. They’re programs that matter because I’m a caregiver, but also because I know we can all benefit from their sustained support as we grow older. Reauthorizing the OAA is essential to that future reality, and I know that it will take all of us to make that possible moving forward.
So—what can you do?
Well, visiting our Health in Aging Advocacy Center is a great first step. It has lots of easy-to-use resources that can help you get in touch with your Senators and House Representative to make sure that your voice is heard as we look toward a future with an even stronger OAA—one that we helped shape here and now!