Top 3 Issues Facing Seniors Today
It’s no secret that there are plenty of issues in today’s world. Between a worldwide pandemic, civil unrest, global warming, salmonella outbreaks…I mean, if you watch the news it makes you want to crawl into a hole and hide.
For seniors, there are issues that affect them in a bigger way than others, and that’s what we are talking about here today. To be clear, the issues do not necessarily affect seniors exclusively, but they have a significant impact in their lives, more so than for the general population.
Aging comes with many challenges. The loss of financial independence, diminished physical ability, age discrimination and abuse, and health care, to name a few. This section discusses some of the challenges we encounter during this process.
While many older adults remain highly self-sufficient, others require more care. Because the elderly typically no longer hold jobs, finances can be a challenge. And due to cultural misconceptions, older people can be targets of ridicule and stereotypes. The elderly face many challenges in later life, but they do not have to enter old age without dignity.
These three issues seem to be the top concerns that keep showing up for seniors.
- Financial Stability: For many people in the United States, growing older once meant living with less income. In 1960, almost 35 percent of the elderly existed on poverty-level incomes. A generation ago, the nation’s oldest populations had the highest risk of living in poverty.
At the start of the twenty-first century, the older population was putting an end to that trend. Among people over sixty-five years old, the poverty rate fell from 30 percent in 1967 to 9.7 percent in 2008, well below the national average of 13.2 percent (U.S. Census Bureau 2009). However, given the subsequent recession, which severely reduced the retirement savings of many while taxing public support systems, how are the elderly affected? According to the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, the national poverty rate among the elderly had risen to 14 percent by 2010 (Urban Institute and Kaiser Commission 2010).
Before the recession hit, what had changed to cause a reduction in poverty among the elderly? What social patterns contributed to the shift? For several decades, a greater number of women joined the workforce. More married couples earned double incomes during their working years and saved more money for their retirement. Private employers and governments began offering better retirement programs. By 1990, senior citizens reported earning 36 percent more income on average than they did in 1980; that was five times the rate of increase for people under age thirty-five (U.S. Census Bureau 2009).
In addition, many people were gaining access to better healthcare. New trends encouraged people to live more healthful lifestyles by placing an emphasis on exercise and nutrition. There was also greater access to information about the health risks of behaviors such as cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, and drug use. Because they were healthier, many older people continue to work past the typical retirement age and provide more opportunity to save for retirement. Will these patterns return once the recession ends? Time will tell. In the meantime, they are realizing the immediate impact of the recession on elderly poverty.
During the recession, older people lost some of the financial advantages that they’d gained in the 1980s and 1990s. From October 2007 to October 2009 the values of retirement accounts for people over age fifty lost 18 percent of their value. The sharp decline in the stock market also forced many to delay their retirement (Administration on Aging 2009).
- Social Isolation, Loneliness, and Bereavement: Seniors already tend to have fewer opportunities for social engagement than younger age groups. Add to that the challenges brought about by the worldwide pandemic, and the lack of social contact has become a major concern, exacerbating the feelings of isolation, depression, and sadness.On top of that, they retire from jobs, children move away, friends and spouses pass away, and eventually they may become housebound if they lose the ability to drive or become ill.Bereavement is always a difficult experience, but because so many seniors lose a spouse, it is a particular problem in their lives.
The grief that follows the loss of a spouse can last many years and can involve anxiety, depression, loneliness and other issues. Of all these problems, loneliness is perhaps the most common and the most difficult to overcome.
According to the most recent U.S. Census 28% of people aged 65 and older lived alone, with numbers estimated to be much higher now. Studies show seniors who live alone often experience social isolation and chronic feelings of loneliness, which cause depression, illness, and even death.
- Ageism: Driving to the grocery store, Peter, twenty-three years old, got stuck behind a car on a four-lane main artery through his city’s business district. The speed limit was thirty-five miles per hour, and while most drivers sped along at forty to forty-five mph, the driver in front of him was going the minimum speed. Peter tapped on his horn. He tailgated the driver. Finally, Peter had a chance to pass the car. He glanced over. Sure enough, Peter thought, a gray-haired old man guilty of “DWE,” driving while elderly.At the grocery store, Peter waited in the checkout line behind an older woman. She paid for her groceries, lifted her bags of food into her cart, and toddled toward the exit. Peter, guessing her to be about eighty years old, was reminded of his grandmother. He paid for his groceries and caught up with her.“Can I help you with your cart?” he asked.
“No, thank you. I can get it myself,” she said and marched off toward her car.
Peter’s responses to both older people, the driver and the shopper, were prejudiced. In both cases, he made unfair assumptions. He assumed the driver drove cautiously simply because the man was a senior citizen, and he assumed the shopper needed help carrying her groceries just because she was an older woman.
Responses like Peter’s toward older people are fairly common. He didn’t intend to treat people differently based on personal or cultural biases, but he did. Ageism is discrimination (when someone acts on a prejudice) based on age. Dr. Robert Butler coined the term in 1968, noting that ageism exists in all cultures (Brownell). Ageist attitudes and biases based on stereotypes reduce elderly people to inferior or limited positions.
Ageism can vary in severity. Peter’s attitudes are probably seen as fairly mild, but relating to the elderly in ways that are patronizing can be offensive. When ageism is reflected in the workplace, in healthcare, and in assisted-living facilities, the effects of discrimination can be more severe. Ageism can make older people fear losing a job, feel dismissed by a doctor, or feel a lack of power and control in their daily living situations.
In early societies, the elderly were respected and revered. Many preindustrial societies observed gerontocracy, a type of social structure wherein the power is held by a society’s oldest members. In some countries today, the elderly still have influence and power and their vast knowledge is respected. Reverence for the elderly is still a part of some cultures, but it has changed in many places because of social factors.
In many modern nations, however, industrialization contributed to the diminished social standing of the elderly. Today wealth, power, and prestige are also held by those in younger age brackets. The average age of corporate executives was fifty-nine years old in 1980. In 2008, the average age had lowered to fifty-four years old (Stuart 2008). Some older members of the workforce felt threatened by this trend and grew concerned that younger employees in higher level positions would push them out of the job market. Rapid advancements in technology and media have required new skill sets that older members of the workforce are less likely to have.
Changes happened not only in the workplace but also at home. In agrarian societies, a married couple cared for their aging parents. The oldest members of the family contributed to the household by doing chores, cooking, and helping with child care. As economies shifted from agrarian to industrial, younger generations moved to cities to work in factories. The elderly began to be seen as an expensive burden. They did not have the strength and stamina to work outside the home. What began during industrialization, a trend toward older people living apart from their grown children, has become commonplace.
What can we do to address these issues? Awareness is a good start. If you are part of that older population, you can seek help, so you don’t feel like you have to face it alone. If you are part of a younger generation, you can help make others aware, step in if you are witness to it, or maybe just reach out to your friend or loved one who is stuck at home. Often it’s the little gestures that mean the most.
If you want to talk about it, if you have a parent or loved one who needs in-home care, you want to know what resources are available, or you just want to discuss the needs of a parent or loved one in general, reach out to us. We would love to talk through your situation, and see how we can help. There is absolutely no obligation or pressure, and we truly do have your best interest in mind. Call us at (678) 494-8129 or email us info@SilverCompanionsGA.com.