Yesterday morning, a veteran of the decades-long effort to improve the way we deliver and pay for long-term supports and services asked me a question. Why, he wondered, should he believe that recent attempts to reform long-term care could succeed when so many previous initiatives have failed.  Last evening, I may have found an answer.

My wife and I went to see a powerful play called How to Write a New Book for the Bible.  It is an unsparing look at the real-life experiences of the author, Bill Cain, who cared for his mother during the last year of her life. Cain, a Jesuit priest and writer, absolutely nailed the reality of caregiving— the pain, the intimacy, and even the humor.

But the play got me thinking about my friend’s question: How is it different this time? The answer may be that caregiving is finding its way into the arts and popular culture in ways that it never has before.  And that may both reflect changing public opinion and drive policy reform in ways traditional lobbying cannot.

Think about films such as Amour, the 2013 Academy award winner about an aging couple struggling with profound physical decline; and Quartet, a 2012 Dustin Hoffman-directed film about the residents of a senior community. Or the shelf full of memoires by the famous and semi-famous who became caregivers for parents or spouses. Or novels such as Walter Mosley’s brilliant The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey.

Recently, a choreographer approached my wife, who is a hospice chaplain, about doing a joint project. She wants to use dance to tell the stories of people approaching  death.

Not long ago, books and movies about aging or caregiving would never have been done. Plays like Cain’s would barely get a reading. “Who’d pay to see it,” some bean-counter would ask.

But something has changed. Now, people do pay to see it.

Culture and the arts have gotten way ahead of policymakers. They see that aging and caregiving are beginning to resonate with the public. Inevitably, the pols—who are always a lagging indicator of public perception—will catch up.

The public isn’t quite there.  A recent public opinion poll by the Associated Press and NORC Public Affairs Research found that one-third of Americans 40 and older would rather not think about old age at all.

Yet, half recognized that nearly everyone will need some personal assistance before they die. More than half said they were currently, or had been, caregivers.

And as artists and writers reflect these experiences, it magnifies people’s awareness. And their audiences will ask why public policy and the health system are failing them.

It wouldn’t be the first time the arts have helped lead change. Think about civil rights in the 1960s or AIDs research in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Or, more recently, issues as disparate as immigration, terrorism, and climate change. In each case, policy responds in part to the ability of culture and the arts putting a powerful face on those half-formed public perceptions.

And these stories will increasingly resonate with lawmakers. They are facing their own caregiving challenges and hear more stories from their constituents. They still have not quite connected these experiences with the need for policy change, but they are getting there (trust me, no-one is more risk-averse and resistant to change than your typical elected official).

The answer to my friend’s question, then, may be plays like How to Write a  New Book for the Bible. We still need to put good solutions on the table. But, thanks in part to authors like Bill Cain, things are different now.