TALKING IT OVER
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON
Patricia Darlak is a daughter, a mother, a wife and a full-time
teacher. She's also a caregiver for her mother, Hazel, who has Alzheimer's
disease and came to live with the Darlaks in September.
Because of her dementia, Hazel forgets to eat or drink. So every
workday, Patricia rushes home from school during her lunch and planning periods
to feed her mother and make sure she takes her medications.
At the White House this week, Patricia talked about the emotional and
physical stress she's under. "I've tried to employ someone for a few hours a
day," she says, "but caregivers want full-time jobs. There's no place I can go
to get the help I need."
Medicare won't pay for Hazel's long-term care, so even if Patricia is
able to hire someone to help, she's afraid the cost will force her to delay her
Patricia is not alone. Millions of Americans -- most of them women --
take care of aged or disabled loved ones every day. Of these, almost 40 percent
are children caring for their parents. And the numbers are growing.
Over the next 30 years, 76 million baby boomers will join the ranks of
the retired and the number of elderly Americans will double. By the middle of
the next century, the average life expectancy will rise to 82 -- six years
longer than today.
For many, retirement is a beginning, not an end. Often, older Americans
take up new hobbies, learn new work and perform vital services in their
communities. But it's hard to escape the infirmities of old age. Nearly half of
all those over age 85 need help with basic tasks, such as eating, dressing and
going to the doctor.
Millions -- including 40 percent of those now 65 years old -- require
care that only a nursing home can provide. But record numbers remain at home
with family and friends, putting more and more working adults in the position
of nurturing their children while, at the same time, nursing their aging
We call this group the "sandwiched" generation -- a phrase that doesn't
come close to describing the small, daily acts of love and frustration, triumph
and worry and hope and exhaustion that are so familiar to those struggling to
meet the needs of family members who depend on them.
The decision to provide long-term care at home is rarely easy.
Out-of-pocket expenses can be staggering. Caregivers -- most of whom
hold outside jobs -- may have to take unpaid leave or work fewer hours. And,
though time spent with an aging or infirm loved one can be precious, it can
also be stressful.
I'm proud of my husband and his administration's accomplishments in
helping America's parents meet the stresses and demands of work and family. We
now have more quality, affordable child care that helps Americans fulfill their
obligations as workers and families. Expanded after-school programs enable
parents to breathe easier during the afternoon hours. And initiatives that
strengthen Medicare and make Medicaid more flexible are helping millions meet
their health-care needs.
The President's agenda is aimed at families meeting their most
important obligation -- caring for their loved ones. This week's announcement
is designed to ease the lives of both caregivers and those who need their
The centerpiece of the proposal is a $1,000 tax credit that will
support those with long-term needs or the family members who care for them.
This initiative would provide much-needed financial support to about 1.2
million older Americans as well as 750,000 disabled adults and children.
In addition, the President will create a National Family Caregiver
Support Program, enabling states to build facilities offering a range of
services from quality respite care to training, support groups, long-term
planning and counseling.
He will also call on Congress to set a national example by offering
non-subsidized, quality, private, long-term care insurance to all federal
There is no simple solution to the problem of caring for our aging and
disabled loved ones. These initiatives offer a solid first step, and I am
gratified by the support they have received from diverse advocacy groups and
members of both political parties.
The senior boom is one of the most important challenges our generation
and our children will face in the coming century. It is up to us to prove that
the infirmities of age need not be the indignities of age. It is up to us to
protect our children and grandchildren from the unsustainable burden of caring
for us. It is up to us to do everything in our power now to lift the quality of
life for every American family.
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