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NHCOA Applauds the Senate for Passing a Path to Citizenship

Washington, D.C.– The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) – the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers – commends the Senate for passing legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system. With a successful 68-32 vote, the bill is headed to its next phase, and NHCOA is pleased that the bill includes a path to citizenship, which will help millions of people. The overhaul of the immigration system is the first of its kind in the U.S. since 1986.

As the debate continues to move through Congress, this landmark advancement by the Senate speaks to all immigrants waiting for citizenship. A path to citizenship will increase economic growth, reduce the deficit, promotes prosperity, and has the potential to create jobs. It has these positive effects because it allows millions of new citizens to share the best of themselves with the U.S. while they work to reach the American Dream. The entire Senate immigration bill is not perfect, but the path to citizenship is a tremendous first step.

“On behalf of NHCOA, I would like to thank the Senate for passing a path to citizenship. Although there still needs to be approval by the House of Representatives and President Obama, NHCOA is hopeful that a fair decision will be made, one that promotes prosperity for older adults, their families and communities,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of NHCOA. 

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The Future of the Older Americans Act (OAA)

The Older Americans Act (OAA) is one of the most important laws for older adults, and on the 50th anniversary of Older Americans Month, it is in need of greater recognition. While most people are familiar with Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, few know about the OAA. The programs of the OAA are also extremely important in allowing older adults to age in dignity and the best possible health. The OAA authorizes a wide variety of programs focused on health, nutrition, job training and caregiver support. Though the law has been successful in improving the lives of older adults, it can be strengthened. Sen. Michael Bennet, of Colorado, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, have developed policies that would enable the OAA to more effectively serve Hispanic older adults and other diverse elders, and give the law the funding it needs to carry out its important work.

The population of Hispanic older adults is growing rapidly, but many Hispanic seniors struggle to access services. Cultural and linguistic barriers are one reason for the difficulty in accessing services. For example, NHCOA has learned that conducting Spanish language outreach to family members and caregivers is an effective way of reaching Hispanic older adults. To help resolve this issue, NHCOA worked with Sen. Bennet to develop an amendment to the OAA called the Improving Services and Activities for Diverse Elders (ISADE) Act. This bill would add a definition of cultural and linguistic competence to the OAA and help the local, state and federal government better serve diverse older adults.

A few weeks ago, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) attended the OAA Summit, hosted by Sen. Bernie Sanders. Sen. Sanders is working to strengthen the OAA by reauthorizing the law and strengthening it for the future. He has included parts of Sen. Bennet’s ISADE Act to help diverse seniors, including Hispanic older adults, more easily access services.  He has also called for increased funding for the OAA, so that programs can grow along with the growth of the older adult population. At the OAA Summit, Sen. Sanders called on his colleagues in Congress to work for older adults and keep in mind those that are most vulnerable.

A small number of Senate champions for older adults joined Sen. Sanders. Sen. Tom Harkin, of Iowa, the chairman of the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, Sen. Ben Cardin, of Maryland, Sen. Al Franken, of Minnesota, and Sen. Tammy Baldwin, of Wisconsin, all expressed their support for the OAA.

“It is rewarding to see the support for the Older Americans Act (OAA) and the impact it has made for the millions of seniors across the nation. We look forward to seeing the program grow in strength and effectiveness in the future and the services it will offer to our growing diverse elderly population,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of NHCOA.

The population of older adults is growing rapidly and becoming more diverse.  Although Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are effective programs, the OAA is a vital piece of the aging infrastructure.  The U.S. needs to modernize the OAA by adequately funding its work and making it responsive to the needs of diverse older adults.  NHCOA strongly supports the work of Sen. Bennet and Sen. Sanders, and calls on all members of Congress to follow their example of service to older adults.

NHCOA Thanks the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Approval of the Bipartisan Gang of Eight Proposal

Washington, DC – The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) – the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers  – applauds the Senate Judiciary Committee for their approval of the Gang of Eight’s immigration proposal. Yesterday’s bipartisan passage by the Senate Judiciary Committee proves to be a sign that the need for immigration reform has been recognized throughout Congress.

This proposal brings hope and lifts the spirits for the millions of undocumented immigrants waiting for citizenship.  According to the bipartisan framework of the bill, comprehensive immigration reform would create a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. that is dependent on the security of our borders and track any visa overstays from persons entering the U.S.

Today, of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants, 1.3 million are between 45 and 54 and another half million are 55 and older. If immigration reform takes place, there could be important benefits for older adults, direct care workers, family caregivers and individuals with disabilities. For example, immigration reform may provide more aging support through Community Based Long-Term Services and Supports – important services that enable many older adults to live independently and with dignity.

“On behalf of NHCOA, I would like to thank the Senate Judiciary Committee for approving the Gang of Eight Proposal and giving hope to millions of unauthorized immigrants. Providing a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes every generation is crucial in order to move our country forward. The Senate’s approval is one step forward in that direction,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of NHCOA.

Earlier this year, NHCOA published a report with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) on the impact of immigration reform for older adults and people with disabilities. NHCOA also participated in an immigration reform rally to represent the interests of this diverse demographic. Through NHCOA’s efforts and the efforts of millions of others across the nation, the possibility of an immigration framework that is responsive to our nation’s diverse demographic, including older adults, may be a reality.

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Older Americans Month: Memories of Histories Lived

By Dr. Henry Pacheco, NHCOA Director of Medicine and Public Health

Families getting together or pictures found in the basement or attic often generate questions. Who was this? Where was this? How did we get here? Who are we?  Unfortunately, these questions may never be answered, leaving a large pool of the unknown that we have to live with. It is said that a lot is known about German history, culture and psychology, because Germans are great writers of diaries. There is an equivalent to that in Latino culture, such as sitting around the table after dinner or after lunch and having those casual conversations about lives lived decades ago. Memories triggered by some current event or the casual question of some younger, perhaps not fully engaged participant, provoking older bearers of so much oral history to weave a whole forgotten universe of experiences lived, some in this adopted country, some in the old country. So much life, so many memories, so many tears, so many laughs and a lot of courage – this is what Older Americans Month is all about.

It happens that we often run into those large pools of the unknown past that would make us whole, if we had only taken the time to ask, record or remember. For those who still have the benefit or the privilege of being in the company of their grandparents, it’s not too late to sit down and ask. Ask about their earliest childhood memories, who were your parents? Where did they live? What did they do? How was life when you were a child, what did the country look like? What were the stories making the rounds then? Who was in power? What happened? Why did you move? What happened to your brothers or sisters, my great aunts and uncles? What was your home like? What did you eat? What games did you play? The questions are endless, once you get started.

Additionally, it happens that older folks have an incredible memory for things past. They may not remember where they left the keys but they remember who was president in the 1920’s and what happened as a result. They remember the songs of the 1930’s and the first car that rolled into town. They remember who got the first refrigerator and radio. They also remember the bad, such as the struggles of daily living, the great plagues that made the rounds and the one who got polio that summer and couldn’t walk again. They remember who got smallpox and was called el fiero (pockmarked) if he survived. They remember going to the pharmacy with a list of potions to be prepared, like the recipe of an alchemist, in hopes that once mixed in the right proportions and taken regularly from the small bottle or envelop, with water, after a few days some malady would be resolved.

They remember the great revolutions, the great wars and where they were and what happened. The heroes, the scoundrels, their names forever remembered in admiration, in fear and in hate. Those who won got to stay, had jobs and had a future. Those who lost often had to leave everything, but they were the lucky ones. At least they didn’t end up forgotten in some dungeon or in some common grave yard somewhere out there, lost forever to everyone, with no memory, no children and no relatives to see into the future.

There is so much history, so much folklore, so many stories you wish you hadn’t known or you wish you knew more about, but at least now when you look back, you can see forever and things that happened make more sense, your parents and your life make more sense. Don’t wait until is too late and lost forever- take a pen, take a notebook and ask. Abuelo y abuela, quiero saber, ¡cuéntame!  (Grandpa and Grandma, I’d like to know, tell me!)

NHCOA Salutes Dedicated Community Leader Angel Luis Irene

The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) – the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers wishes local community leader, Angel Luis Irene, a speedy recovery.

As a leader and friend to the entire Latino community, Angel Luis’ service and dedication extend beyond all boundaries. NHCOA applauds Angel Luis for his four decades of community service, including his nine years as Executive Director of VIDA Senior Centers, the only organization dedicated to serving Latino older adults in the D.C. metro area.

For more information on the Get Well Celebration for Angel Luis Irene on Sunday, May 19, please click here. You may also watch the event live starting at 7 p.m. by clicking here.

NHCOA Celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Older Americans Month

Washington, DC – The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) – the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers – thanks Senator Bill Nelson for submitting a resolution to designate May 2013 as “Older Americans Month.” NHCOA is also grateful for the co-sponsorship of the resolution by Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, and Senator Chris Coons, of Delaware. Recognizing the growth of the older adult population and their ability to make positive contributions to the country is more important than ever.

Sen. Nelson noted that during the first Older Americans Month in 1963, about one out of three older adults in the U.S. lived in poverty. Since then, the country has made great strides in improving the ability of older adults to live in health, economic security, and dignity. The poverty rate for those over 65 is now 8.7%. However, many older adults still struggle to pay medical bills, afford housing, and put food on the table. For example, Hispanic older adults endure a poverty rate that is substantially higher than average, 18.7%.

NHCOA joins Sen. Nelson in his call to the people of the U.S. to encourage more opportunities for older adults to positively contribute. Over the past several years, NHCOA has carried out trainings to help Hispanic older adults improve their communities and take charge of their health and economic security. NHCOA hosts its Empowerment and Civic Engagement Training to demystify the public policy process and teach older adults how to tell their stories to policy makers. NHCOA also carries out a variety of programs to help Hispanic older adults prevent chronic diseases, like diabetes. The older adults that NHCOA works with also contribute to Medicare by preventing and detecting fraud, as part of the National Hispanic Senior Medicare Patrol.

“Fair and positive change is at the heart of every community,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, NHCOA President and CEO. “And, at the heart of each community are thousands of seniors who want— and can— be part of that change. Older Americans Month is an opportunity to highlight their ability to contribute positively to our society given their vast life experiences, wisdom, and talents.”

The U.S. still has work to do to ensure that all older adults are able to age in economic security and the best possible health. NHCOA is happy to have champions like Sen. Nelson, Sen. Collins, Sen. Sanders, and Sen. Coons, leading this effort and continuing the legacy that was started by President Kennedy.

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NHCOA Honors National Women’s Health Week

This week marks National Women’s Health Week, a weeklong observance focused on improving the mental and physical health of women across the U.S. Oftentimes, women put their health second when they have a family to care for or stress factors such as work and school, which may prevent them from eating healthy foods and staying physically active.

Chronic diseases, such as heart disease and HIV/AIDS, can also take a unique toll on women. According to the Office on Women’s Health, every 90 seconds a woman suffers from a heart attack. Additionally, around 372,000 women 65 and older experience a heart attack each year, which makes heart disease the number one cause of death for women in the U.S.

Every year, 50,000 Americans become infected with HIV, and women in particular account for approximately 24% of all HIV diagnoses (womenshealth.gov). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2010 the rate of new HIV infections among Latinas was four times the rate of white women. Because of the need to address all Latino communities, NHCOA’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI) is dedicated to reach Latino seniors, their families and their caregivers. In a culturally, linguistically and age-appropriate manner, NHCOA’s Hispanic Aging Network (HAN) has been able to reach a population by providing direct programs for Latino older adults and their families that break through the stigma of HIV/AIDS that exists in the Latino community.

National Women’s Health Week is a reminder to empower women to live happy and healthy lives by taking care of their health. In order for women to take control of their health, they must first take care of themselves by getting regular checkups and preventive screenings, getting active, eating healthy, paying attention to mental health and engaging in safe behaviors (Office of Minority Health). And there’s no better time to start than during National Women’s Health Week.

“Let’s honor the women in our lives by urging them to take care of their health. Start with one healthy behavior today, and step by step we can take care of our greatest asset,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of NHCOA.

To learn more about National Women’s Health Week and how you can get involved, please click here.

NHCOA Hosts Capitol Hill Briefing to Announce the Results of a New Study on Alzheimer’s Disease in the Hispanic Community

Washington, DC — The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) – the leading national organization working to improve the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers – hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on Tuesday, May 7, to release the findings of its new study that assesses Latino older adults’ and Latino caregivers’ attitudes and knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease.

The briefing provided an opportunity to hear from various experts on the impact Alzheimer’s disease has on the lives of patients and caregivers. Congressman Raul Ruiz (D-CA) opened his remarks by sharing the health care disparities he observed while working as a doctor in underserved communities. While emphasizing the importance of taking care of one’s older family members, he highlighted the need to create more programs and facilities that are tailored to Latinos dealing with Alzheimer’s. In addition, he mentioned the need to provide more geriatric physicians to serve the underserved communities and establish more home care options, as well as nurse care options, in which Latino older adults can live with their families.

“I applaud the National Hispanic Council on Aging for their leadership to improve the lives of our Latino seniors, their families, and caregivers,” said Rep. Ruiz. “As an Emergency Room physician and the only Latino doctor in Congress, I understand the unique challenges facing the aging Latino population and the critical need to provide high-quality services to this community. That includes adequate research funding for diseases like Alzheimer’s, and I’m proud of the National Hispanic Council on Aging for their outstanding work to highlight the importance of this issue.”

Dr. Donald Moulds from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, spoke about the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease. He stressed that the effects of Alzheimer’s can be devastating for older adults and their families and there is room for improvement in how we treat people in this country suffering with dementia. “We need educational outreach that targets caregivers so they can better help individuals with Alzheimer’s,” stated Dr. Moulds.

“We have a National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease because the Obama administration is committed to confronting Alzheimer’s and addressing every aspect of what it is to confront Alzheimer’s, from research to improving quality of care, to expanding support for people with Alzheimers and caregivers, to increasing public awareness. We’ve also set an ambitious goal to prevent and effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, and not long ago, the fight against Alzheimer’s lacked a high-level national focus and  a consistent, coordinated partnership with the nation’s Alzheimer’s community. We’ve made an historic investment of funds, a commitment to  prevention and treatment, and we’re building partnerships among government, researchers, advocates, providers and the public that will fully bring Alzheimer’s into the national conscience,” added Dr. Moulds.

Mr. Mark Bayer, Chief of Staff to Congressman Edward Markey (D-MA), spoke about their work on the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease. By 2050 it is expected that the number of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s will triple, and by this time we will spend more on this disease than on national defense if we don’t find a cure, stated Mr. Bayer.

“As co-chair of the Congressional Alzheimer’s Task Force and someone whose family has been touched by this devastating disease, I commend NHCOA for highlighting the challenges facing Alzheimer’s patients and caregivers in the Hispanic community. It is critical that families dealing with this disease have access to culturally and linguistically appropriate resources, and I look forward to partnering with NHCOA as we work to better the lives of the 5 million Alzheimer’s patients nationwide,” said Congressman Ed Markey, co-chair of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Alzheimer’s Task Force.

The study found that although Latino older adults may be willing to be screened for Alzheimer’s, their decision was affected by factors, such as poverty, fear, and language barriers. Lack of health insurance, knowledge, and access to healthcare also  affect their decision.  Furthermore, the study confirmed a severe lack of knowledge in the Hispanic community about Alzheimer’s. Most participants  attributed the the early symptoms of Alzheimer’s to the aging process and often confused Alzheimer’s with other unrelated diseases. As a result of the study’s findings, NHCOA determined that there is a need to expand research on Alzheimer’s in Hispanics and develop of a campaign to increase knowledge and provide resources to caregivers.

Alzheimer’s disease is a particularly serious problem for Hispanic older adults and caregivers. Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease than non-Hispanic whites; however, they are less likely to be diagnosed (Alzheimer’s Association). As a result, data from the Alzheimer’s Association estimates that between 200,000 – 365,000 Hispanic older adults have Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia. Hispanics also have an increased risk for Alzheimer’s due to a higher rate of cardiovascular risk factors, such as diabetes high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

Although Hispanics are disproportionately affected by Alzheimer’s disease, health care providers interviewed for the study were almost unanimous in their assertion that there are no culturally and linguistically relevant materials on Alzheimer’s for Latinos. Caregivers confirmed this during their testimonies by sharing their personal experiences with caring for Hispanic older adults with Alzheimer’s.

“The NHCOA study brings attention to a growing public health challenge facing our society. Our study findings underscore the importance of developing culturally and linguistically appropriate strategies to increase the knowledge about Alzheimer’s disease among Hispanics and connect caregivers to resources that help them cope with their caregiver role as they care for their loved ones with Alzheimer’s,” said Dr. Yanira Cruz, President and CEO of NHCOA, who highlighted the findings of the study and the appropriate tools that need to be developed to serve Hispanics with the disease.

Margarita Navas, a caregiver, recalled that her mother’s Alzheimer’s screening had to be conducted through her because her mother did not speak English and the doctor did not have access to diagnostic tools in Spanish.

“Caring for my Mother with Alzheimer’s has changed my life dramatically. It has helped me to appreciate her and be more sensitive to older adults and their needs. While I have had to make many sacrifices to take care of her, I am comforted knowing that I am caring for the person who took care of me. Also Alzheimer’s changes the roles in families. Children become parents in every way. I became my mother’s mom since late 2006,” stated Ms. Navas.

Maria Teresa Vasquez, a registered nurse and caregiver, echoed similar difficulties in caring for her mother with Alzheimer’s. “I needed resources to help care for my mother,” said Ms. Vasquez. “As I was searching, it hit me: nothing talked about faith, familia (family), and my culture.”

Other testimonies included Astrid Casoni, a caregiver provider from Mary’s Center.

To view the Executive Summary of Attitudes, Level of Stigma, and Level of Knowledge About Alzheimer’s Disease Among Hispanic Elderly Adults and Caregivers, and Alzheimer’s-Related Challenges for Caregivers, please click here.

For information on the National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease, click here.

For information about the Congressional Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease, click here.

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