Let Us Care for Our Elders in This Fast-Paced World.
There’s a saying that you shouldn’t regret growing older — it’s a privilege denied to many. However, some of America’s seniors live lives of quiet sadness.
They need to make tough decisions, like whether to pay for needed medications or eat a nutritious meal, sometimes daily. They battle isolation and loneliness.
In generations past, people revered their elders as vessels of experience and wisdom. Rather than leaving them alone, earlier and more empathic societies elevated seniors to privileged positions in the village. We need to return to this mentality if we are to show we genuinely care about our aging population. Many practical and disappointingly mundane needs go unmet for America’s elders.
There are many emotional, cultural and philosophical reasons for taking good care of older people in society and maintaining closer ties with them than we do now.
Common Issues Facing America’s Seniors
America provides a limited safety net for seniors, one that our elders fund over a lifetime of hard work. Enhancing, not chipping away at, the programs intended to help our aging population is a first step in showing that we care. However, seniors face many challenges they can no longer address by getting a side hustle or working harder at their day jobs.
- Healthcare Issues
Many seniors face severe healthcare woes. Approximately 80% of senior citizens have one chronic illness, and the majority have multiple. Some elders live with these painful conditions without treatment for years before becoming qualified for Medicare age at 65. Millions of American seniors have dementia, which robs them of the joy they could experience during retirement years.
Instead of playing with their grandchildren, they may find they no longer remember their names. Seniors are also more prone to falls, which can lead to death or disability.
- Long-Term Care
Another issue facing America’s elders is the high cost of long-term care. There is a 70% chance that somebody who is 65 years old today will need this type of treatment during their lifetime. Medicare doesn’t cover these costs, and Medicaid imposes strict limits on income and property before approving aid.
- Economic Insecurity
Many seniors face rising economic insecurity. The cost of living continues to soar while Social Security benefits haven’t budged much in recent years. The cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA) for 2020 sits at only 1.6% — significantly less than the 2.8% increase awarded in 2019. For elders who don’t own their homes, this figure isn’t nearly enough to keep up with rising rent prices.
Many seniors find themselves facing tough decisions. Do they purchase a needed prescription medication, or do they buy groceries for the week? Unfortunately, decades of wage stagnation has left many seniors with nothing left at the end of the month.
How Many of Us Fail Our Seniors, and How to Do Better
It would be something of a blessing if these practical barriers to dignified retirement were the only ones faced by senior citizens in modern America. Unfortunately, there’s plenty about the system that needs addressing. We’re all guilty of ignoring our elders from time to time. Something else we ignore is the inherent loneliness of old age.
When you grow older, you lose touch with family and friends. Children and grandchildren grow up and move away. Spouses and beloved friends pass away. More than one-third of seniors in one recent study indicated they struggle with loneliness. This problem doesn’t only cause emotional suffering, it can increase the risk of disorders ranging from cardiovascular disease to dementia.
It is our sacred duty to care for our elders. Not just their physical needs, but their emotional, social and spiritual wellness as well. This duty must be born out of more than our hope that somebody else will do the same for us. Caring for and communing with previous generations shows our humanity and teaches us that everybody is worthy of dignity and respect, no matter their age, condition or status.
Even among animals, we see acts of compassion that should make us two-legged creatures feel ashamed at our comparative lack of empathy. Slow down and show the senior in your life that you care. Here are a few ways you can do this:
- Reach out: Has it been a while since you called your aging mother? Give her a buzz when you get off work. Plan time to visit if you can afford to do so. Because so many seniors struggle with loneliness, letting them know we haven’t forgotten them is crucial.
- Lend a hand: If an elder you love is aging in place, offer to help make accessibility upgrades to their property to keep them safer. If they’re considering moving into an assisted living facility, help them organize their belongings for the transition. Attend interviews and tours of potential properties with them to help them make the right choice.
- Advocate for them: It’s an election year, so get registered and vote for politicians who vow to protect services for senior citizens. If you have more time, call your elected representatives and ask them to protect Social Security and Medicare. If you want to go the extra mile, sign up to phone bank or canvass for candidates who support eldercare initiatives.
- Volunteer or consider a career: A majority of America’s nursing homes and care facilities for seniors are understaffed. It’s been this way for decades, and the issues we’re discussing here today are a big part of why. We can, and should, do more to convince young people of the value of volunteering or choosing a career in caring for the elderly.
Sometimes, all a worthwhile retirement is missing is a companion to sit and talk with and a kindly reminder to stay up-to-date with medications. Seniors can get out and volunteer too. We should collectively encourage older people to use volunteer opportunities to stay sharp, active and socially engaged. While many seniors volunteer annually, plenty more don’t know about the option.
Showing Our Elders We Care Honors Their Legacy
We owe it to our elders to make them feel needed and respected in their golden years. Plus, we owe them a country that looks out for their basic needs. Unfortunately, something we tend to ignore is the emotional, spiritual and philosophical needs of our elders. We can each lend a hand — or a sympathetic ear — at the individual level.
We can also work to make meaningful and personal connections with elders we know and those we’re meeting for the first time. Taking a few simple steps will awaken each of us to the inescapable conclusion that old age and death await all of us. However, isolation and disenfranchisement don’t have to come with it.