As Americans continue to live longer, their chance of developing diseases like dementia and Alzheimer's increases. And family members are often assuming the unpaid role of caregiver, resulting in reduced wages and Social Security benefits.
In response, U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy is backing an initiative to provide retirement credit for family caregivers.
Advocates, family members, and doctors packed a conference room on Tuesday at the 150-year-old Mary Wade Home, an assisted-living facility in New Haven. They shared their knowledge and experience on the effects of Alzheimer's, a disease Murphy called a national crisis.
"Five-and-a-half million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease and over the course of the next several decades that number is expected to triple," he said.
Murphy talked about increased costs, squeezed budgets, and the lack of support for family members who give up their jobs to care for loved ones with Alzheimer’s. He’s proposed legislation, the Social Security Caregiver Credit Act, which he hopes will provide an incentive.
"What this bill does is it says if you’re a caregiver and you’re providing regular care for a loved one and you have had to leave work because of it, or you’re not working full-time because of it, you shouldn’t lose credit for Social Security purposes because you have decided to care for a relative," Murphy explained.
Bob Savage, 85, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s a year and a half ago. He stressed the importance of research, but not in pharmaceuticals.
"What I found is that to be able to create and to be alive during that one period of time, I think, helps to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s," he said. "What we need is research that could work with us to help to show that that is real."
Earlier this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved additional funding for research for fiscal year 2017. If adopted into the final budget it would boost U.S. government funding for Alzheimer’s research by nearly $1.4 billion -- a 40 percent increase over last year, according to Murphy.