Help for elderly caregivers could come soon

(WTNH)--The population is living longer, and costly diseases like Alzheimer's can drain a family's resources with no safety net from the government. Statistics show that one-in-six adults in Connecticut are already serving as caregivers, and the population continues to age.

"The problems are immense. And when you talk to people and find they're alone or in tears on the telephone, it breaks your heart," said Joan Johnson, a retired school principal from Milford.

Johnson now volunteers to work with the elderly. She learned how difficult it can be when she was the primary caregiver for her mother with Alzheimer's, before she died four years ago.

"I was already older," Johnson said. "I was already on Medicare and having my own health problems. It was a senior taking care of a senior."

Unfortunately, her struggles are the norm. Most elderly people are cared for by close relatives who give up their own lives, and lose out financially in the process to the tune of $470 billion each year, in uncompensated care.

"Medicaid now doesn't kick in until you've exhausted all income. So you get nothing or everything. And it only pays for nursing home care," said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn.

Murphy spoke Monday to a group at the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut. The state is ranked as the seventh-oldest state in terms of elderly population, and one out of every six adults is caring for a relative. Murphy co-sponsored the RAISE Act, that would provide federal benefits like social security for caregivers, as caregivers often give up valuable working years to look after loved ones.

"Federal government has to wake up to the fact that lots of sons and daughters are providing care for elderly parents and they need support to do that," Murphy said. "Right now, they're not getting it."

The RAISE Act has already passed the U.S. Senate. The House will now decide whether to vote on it.

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