Happy senior man having coffee with friends at table in nursing home

The aging demographics of the US demand a more focused government approach to the myriad issues of the country’s seniors and seniors-to-be, a leading aging services organization wrote in a letter to President Biden this week.

LeadingAge president and CEO Katie Smith Sloan said 25 different government agencies oversee some aspect of the lives of aging citizens. The aging services organization, representing nonprofit providers across a range of sectors, argues a central Office on Aging Policy would close gaps in services and improve efficiency, as well as demonstrate seniors’ importance to government.

“The changing demographics of the nation mean that it will no longer serve us to leave it to individual staff within multiple departments to find each other on an ad hoc basis or coalesce for one emergent need,” an attachment to the letter said. “This work cannot be done by one department or spread across 25 or more federal agencies.”

LeadingAge has long called for an “all-of-government” strategy in solving the problems of caring for the nation’s growing senior population. In 2018, 52 million people aged 65 and older lived in the US, or 16% of the population. The older population in 2030 is projected to be more than twice as large as in 2000, growing from 35 million to 73 million and representing 21% of the nation’s population.

Among the issues and programs LeadingAge identified in the letter as being “disconnected from the top of the executive branch” are:

  • Preventing poverty and assuring retirement income
  • Shifting patterns of employment, access to jobs for older people who work, and retirement
  • Ensuring equitable access to adequate housing
  • Services and housing
  • Food security
  • Eliminating barriers to transportation
  • Need for long-term care
  • Protecting seniors against abuse including financial scams
  • Environmental threats may harm older people first
  • Inequity for older people, particularly those of color
  • Incomplete data to support policymaking

LeadingAge said the US is not as prepared to care for its seniors as other developed countries. Singapore, Japan, Israel and Germany all have centralized models like the one LeadingAge is proposing. The letter also noted the launch of the United Nation Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030) and the Healthy Ageing Collaborative in September. Those initiatives are intended to raise awareness of seniors’ needs and to support national and international teamwork.

“The first step of such a strategy is to provide a strong centralized vision and provide leadership from within the heart of government,” reads the letter. “As noted in a (European Union) report on aging more than 15 years ago, just as delaying planning and saving for retirement harms an individual worker, delays at the government level will lead to increased costs and shift the economic burden to the next generation of workers and taxpayers.”