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Protecting the Well-Being of Older Americans

What the Senator and the Aging Committee are doing to help

Editor’s note: This article is part of Next Avenue’s 2015 Influencers in Aging project honoring 50 people changing how we age and think about aging. Here, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the Influencers, blogs about the work she’s doing to protect older Americans.

As a Senator representing the state with the oldest median age, I am particularly focused on the well-being of America’s seniors. It has been my privilege to serve on the Senate Special Committee on Aging since my first days in the Senate and an honor to have been elected chairman for the 114th Congress.

The committee has three major priorities: investing in biomedical research targeting diseases that disproportionately affect older Americans, such as Alzheimer’s and diabetes; protecting seniors against financial exploitation and scams and improving retirement security.

A national plan to combat Alzheimer’s and other debilitating conditions must include assistance for the family caregivers on the front lines.

Increasing Alzheimer’s Research Funding

In my work as chairman of the Congressional Alzheimer’s Caucus, I have learned much about our nation’s most costly disease and the devastating effect it has on more than five million Americans and their families. Although promising research is underway, there currently are no means of prevention, effective treatments or a cure for Alzheimer’s disease.

The good news is that the Senate Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, recently approved a 60 percent increase in Alzheimer’s research funding. I am delighted that the Senate is finally recognizing the need for a greater investment in Alzheimer’s research and will work for this funding to be retained in the final version of the appropriations for the National Institutes of Health.

Helping the Nation’s Family Caregivers

A national plan to combat Alzheimer’s and other debilitating conditions must include assistance for the family caregivers on the front lines.

The bipartisan RAISE Family Caregivers Act that I have introduced would help us to leverage our resources, promote innovation and promising practices and provide our nation’s family caregivers with much-needed recognition and support.

Attacking Diabetes

Investments in biomedical research not only improve the health and longevity of Americans, but also provide ongoing benefits to our economy and the federal budget. For example, nearly one of three Medicare dollars is spent treating people with diabetes, and the incidence and costs of that disease are projected to go up as our population ages. Advancements in the prevention and treatment of diabetes can save lives and help extend the solvency of Medicare.

Since I founded the Senate Diabetes Caucus in 1997, funding for diabetes research has more than tripled from $319 million to well over a billion dollars this year. As a consequence, we have seen some encouraging breakthroughs and are on the threshold of a number of new discoveries.

Curbing Elder Financial Abuse

The Aging Committee has taken an aggressive approach to fighting fraud and schemes targeting our nation’s seniors. Financial exploitation of older Americans is a growing epidemic that cost seniors an estimated $2.9 billion in 2010. It is very troubling that in as many as 90 percent of these cases, the senior is victimized by someone he or she knows well. Financial abuse of seniors can jeopardize their physical and emotional well-being as well as their financial security.

Maine is on the cutting edge of helping to combat financial abuse through a program called “Senior$afe,” which is a collaborative effort by Maine, financial institutions, regulators and legal organizations to help educate bank and credit union employees about how to identify and help stop financial exploitation.

Based on that model, Senator McCaskill and I have introduced the “Senior$safe Act of 2015,” which would put in place a commonsense plan to help protect American seniors from financial fraud. This bipartisan legislation would encourage financial institutions to train their employees and shield them from suit when they make good faith, reasonable reports of potential fraud to the proper authorities.

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