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LTCI Watch: Pope Francis

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Pope Francis had plenty to talk about last week when he led a service at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Manhattan.

He expressed sorrow about recent tragic events and shame about problems within the Roman Catholic church, and he called for the clergy members at the service to be close “to the poor, the refugee, the immigrant, the sick, the exploited, the elderly living alone, prisoners, and all God’s other poor.”

See also: In New York, pope praises contributions of nuns to the Church

The pope may be in an especially good position to comment on the challenges facing the elderly living alone: He himself is a single 79-year-old man who lives alone as an immigrant in the middle of Rome, an ocean away from his only living sibling.

He also leads a religious entity that has been providing various forms of professional and informal long-term care (LTC) services for millennia.

The history of the Roman Catholic church shows that Western societies have always had trouble with coming up the cash to provide an acceptable level of care for older people with difficulties with the activities of daily living (ADLs), but that Western societies have also, within recorded history, acknowledged the importance of trying to find ways to meet the need for LTC services, even in centuries when the overall level of wealth was much lower than it is today, and when general living standards were much lower.

Projections about how rapidly and how dramatically the population of the United States, and of other countries, will age are sobering. Those projections easily create the impression that, in a few decades, the typical retirement residence will be a cardboard box on the sidewalk.

But that is not the norm today in Italy, the country surrounding the Vatican, which already has a population age distribution similar to what the United States will have when the U.S. baby boomers reach their “oldest old” years. The pope’s sermon shows us that dire misery need not be the norm in the United States in the future, if we plan ahead.

If government agencies, private companies, and private individuals all think about what we have to do, and do it, then we have a shot at finding ways to muddle through and avoid the catastrophes of our nightmares.

See also: Rosie the caregiver: 10 ways to help her rivet our LTC ship together