The Problem with Seniors – and What It Will Take to Fix It
Link to article in MinnPost
Guest Column by Deb Taylor
By now, you’ve probably heard the statistics: 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day, in less than three years, by the year 2020, there will be more people over the age of 65 than school-age children. This is the first time in Minnesota history that seniors will outnumber children.
The senior population is increasing faster than it ever has, and seniors are living longer than ever before. Here in Minnesota, we are the land of 10,000 lakes. Now, imagine if we added 10,000 more lakes every single day. We’d have a big issue pretty quickly, wouldn’t we?
The problem we’re facing with the rapidly growing senior population is a lack of preparation. There aren’t enough caregivers. Housing is a major issue, as is health care and the importance of supporting organizations that provide affordable resources that support senior independence is being overlooked.
Aging in place is cost-effective
The solution to this issue is simple: provide more resources for seniors to age in place. The reality is that it’s cheaper to provide resources to seniors to help them remain independent than it is to put them in a nursing home. A 2012 study of 39 nursing home residents and 39 independently living seniors found that the total cost to Medicare and Medicaid were $1,591.61 lower per month for the independently living seniors over a 12-month period.
Part of the lack of readiness to support the growing senior population is society’s persistent ageist perspective. Often seniors are pushed aside and treated as second-rate citizens, having their value to society consistently undermined simply because of their age, despite their years of experience and knowledge. In fact, studies have proven that quite the opposite is true. The nonprofit Generations United shares that the regular presence of seniors helps improve the reading scores of children, provides a positive attitude toward aging, improves communication and problem-solving skills, and more. The ageist perception that society holds has blinded us to the many beneficial and productive ways seniors give back to our communities. It has created a lack of empathy toward the needs of seniors, which has all but stripped away the true urgency of the matter.
Step 1: Shift our thinking
Ageism is one of the largest obstacles in creating a solution to this fast approaching issue. Solutions cannot be created for a problem no one believes exists. The first step we need to take as a society is to make a shift in our thinking and how we view those older than ourselves. We need to see the value in our older citizens and appreciate the wisdom they have to offer.
Changing the conversation surrounding seniors may be the first step, but it is no doubt one of the most difficult. While it’s easy to be disheartened by the attitude our society holds towards seniors, there are steps you can take right now to see real, actionable, and immediate change.
One very actionable step you can take is to contact your local members of Congress and inform them about this important matter.
Day at the Capitol
Another, similar step, is to participate in days of action. LeadingAge Minnesota will be holding a Day at the Capitol on Thursday, March 30. This event is an opportunity for individuals to let their voices be heard in support of Minnesota seniors and those who care for them.
Another step, to take matters into your own hands, is to donate to an organization that provides these much needed resources to seniors. They say “money talks.” By making a financial contribution to an organization, you have the opportunity to make yours speak for the change you want to see happen. There are numerous worthy organizations: Senior Community Services, Meals on Wheels, and local senior centers, just to name a few. Financially supporting these organizations will help them to grow and expand their services, so that all Minnesota seniors can have access to the resources they need.
It’s time we stop talking about what needs to happen and start taking real steps to make it happen for the sake of our seniors and our community.
Deb Taylor is CEO of Senior Community Services and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for older adults and helps seniors and caregivers maintain their independence through free or low-cost service.