The importance and impact of aging members on the family unit is the subject of a recent policy report, "Family and Support Systems and the Aging," prepared jointly by the National Retired Teachers Association - American Association of Retired Persons and the editors of The American Family.
Although it reviews all points of support and interaction between older and younger family members, the report focuses heavily on the care-giving process, particularly as it relates to frail and dependent elderly.
Because of the growing number of women who are leaving the home and joining the work force (women traditionally have been the caretakers of ailing and older family members), the study predicts that the government will be called upon increasingly in the future to supplement services to dependent family members.
To this end, geriatric skills should be incorporated into the training of health and social service professionals to make them aware of agerelated changes that older persons experience.
However, the report warns, the government should be careful not to undermine the importance of the family as the primary support system for the elderly. Some public policies act to discourage families who wish to care for their older members, despite the belief of policy makers that, with continuing budget restrictions, the family should bear more of the expense for this sort of care.
The report concludes with a detailed list of policy recommendations to bolster family support and involvement rather than discourage it. These recommendations are not limited to the more obvious areas of health care and financial assistance, but encompass all areas of governmental support. Along with the elimination of the Social Security earnings test and the repeal of the statutory exclusion of persons over 70 from the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, the report recommends the development of demonstration projects, such as those supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, to utilize older persons in the transmission of cultural heritage and values. Specific suggestions for the improvement of the Supplemental Security Income program and Medicare are also included.
The report was developed under a grant from the Levi Strauss Foundation, for distribution at the 1980 White House Conference on Families.