The White House Conference on Aging took place on July 13 and Gale Reece, founder of the I know expo, was in attendance. The topic of caregiving was discussed on that day and here’s a synopsis of what was said as reported by Next Avenue, public media’s first and only national service for America’s booming 50+ population.

Actor David Hyde Pierce, known for his role as Dr. Niles Crane in the NBC sitcom Frasier, moderated the conference’s panel on caregiving. Pierce is a spokesman for the Alzheimer’s Association. Members of his family were affected by the disease.

Secretary Robert A. McDonald of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs said that, with so many veterans under its care for such a long span, his agency has been a “canary in the coal mine” for medical issues in the United States. It will be the same for aging, he said. By 2017, with the aging of the boomers, there will be 10 million veterans over the age of 65, he said. “Disability claims have gone up by 50 percent in a short period of time, and this has put tremendous stress on our system,” McDonald said.

The VA has responded by, among other things, establishing a new national caregiver support line at (855) 260-3274. Licensed social workers have fielded over 190,000 calls and provided 33,000 referrals, McDonald said. Another program, REACH (Resources for All Caregivers Health) is designed to “teach caregivers how to solve problems and get things done.”

Other caregiving panel members included Ai-Jen Poo of Caring Across Generations and author of The Age of Dignity: Preparing for the Elder Boom in a Changing America; Frank Fernandez, president and CEO of BluePlus of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation; Harry Leider, a physician and chief medical officer with Walgreens and Britnee Fergins, a caregiver in Shreveport, La.

Leider said Walgreens is in a unique position to help older Americans by virtue of its reach and availability (8,300 stores, with many open 24 hours a day); its services (medication management and immunizations); and its position on the “front line” of health care for many patients. “The average diabetic or their caregiver comes to our pharmacy 20 times a year,” he said. That translates to much more frequent contact than that person’s primary care physician has with him or her, Leider said.

Fergins, a full-time chemist, is a single mother of a 2-year-old son and also takes care of her father, who has Alzheimer’s. “It’s been very difficult,” she said, “but he is my father and he’s been a great father, so I do it.” Asked what would help her the most with her caregiving responsibilities, Fergins said: convenience. “All the great programs that I hear them talking about — I’ll call and either no one answers the phone or they won’t return a phone call,” she said. Or she is told she has to call another number because she has the wrong department. She can’t get the resources or benefits that her father needs if she can’t get through to the right people, she said. “And you don’t have time to make the call in the first place,” Pierce said.

Panelist Poo stressed the importance of establishing systems to support and value the nation’s 50 million professional and family caregivers, whose numbers will double by the year 2050.

We need “to see caregivers as a huge part of the solution for the future, as a huge part of the equation for quality of life” for our elders, she said.