Become an Advocate

As baby boomers age, it will become increasingly apparent that our society will need more geriatricians – and by default, primary care doctors skilled in treating elders. We’ll also need many more direct care workers, well-trained and paid a living wage, to carry out the tough day-to-day tasks enabling more of us to live as best we can as we age.

volunteer-652383_640How do we get to a better future? In the course of doing research for my forthcoming book about late-life care, I’ve learned about the legions of dedicated people working in the public, academic, philanthropic and private sectors to achieve progress. It is painstaking work, meticulous and incremental, but it is progress. Certainly good public policy, enlightened leadership and better education for all involved in the field are critical. But public engagement will have to play a major role. It will be up to us, particularly we baby boomers – loud and insistent as we are – to tap into our activism genes and focus on these issues.

There are plenty of ways to advocate for change. Here’s one: The Center for Elder Care and Advanced Illness offers excellent resources on how to get involved in your community. It includes my personal favorite, the Agitator’s Guide to Elder Care.

Here’s another: LeadingAge, an association of 6,000 nonprofit organizations dedicated to “making America a better place to grow old,” offers guidance on advocacy and updates on proposed legislation aimed mainly at its membership, but it is also a useful source for consumers and caregivers who want to be apprised about these issues. Take a look at their grassroots guidance.

In the meantime, for those who are caring for people with dementia,The Greater Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association offers a useful – and free — online resource, “Encouraging Comfort Care: A Guide for Families of People with Dementia Living in Care Facilities.” It helps clarify the kinds of medical decisions caregivers may face on behalf of loved ones with dementia living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other types of care facilities. It offers a checklist of comfort care measures to be discussed with staff members of care facilities. The guide is available at

Another outstanding resource is available on the website of the dementia program at Hospice of the Valley in Scottsdale, Arizona. Its videos offer critical information for caregivers about communicating with loved ones with dementia and understanding behaviors and the different stages of the disease, as well as excellent practical advice about medications (particularly, what types of medications should not be given to people with dementia) and making health care decisions. They have short and effective educational videos.

It takes a village to raise a child, as the oft-used phrase goes. It’s clear that as the next decades roll on, it will take a village to care for our elders too.

Notes from the Forefront of Late-Life Care