I recently attended the Joint Conference of The National Council on the Aging and the American Society on Aging in the lovely windy city of Chicago. It was a whirlwind four days of activity, excitement, and exhaustion…all well worth it. The conference brought together almost 4000 professional in the many fields of aging and was a forum for hot aging issues. Sheila Quirke, LCSW and Lisa Vanermark, LCSW of Presbyterian Homes in Evanston Illinois addressed one very interesting and timely issue. They talked about Baby Boomers as caregivers and described them as “…unique, with specific needs. Their sheer numbers, strong appetite for information, and history of challenging the norm has led them to reshape developmental milestones. Faced with the challenge of caring for older adults while anticipating their own future, Boomers are forcing professionals to acknowledge the gap in current caregiving supports.”

The Baby Boomer generation is known for its passionate embrace of causes and questioning of authority. These traits, once looked at as negative by society, are now changing the stereotypical image of who a caregiver is. No longer can society assume they are women content to accept the role as a gender expectation. Many caregivers today are working men and women raising families while caring for disabled spouses, children, or parents. They are also grandparents raising grandchildren. They are people passionately concerned about their loved ones who want to, or have to, continue to work while providing the best care possible.

In order to do this they want affordable respite, financial help in the form of direct payment for care and/or tax incentives, and accessible resources that enable loved ones to live safely in the community. They expect and demand quality institutional care, which is changing the way, assisted living facilities and nursing homes are held accountable. They also want standards set in place to meet their needs as future care-receivers.

This generation is a growing revolutionary force to be reckoned with. According to a recent survey by The Media Audit, the 50-plus age group has grown to represent approximately 36% of the American population in the past five years. And as history has shown Baby Boomers will not age in silence; their voices will only get louder. Add your voice by calling or writing your congressmen and women. Tell them to make caregiving issues a priority on the legislative agenda.

Mary C. Fridley