Brooke lange Helping seniors thrive will help society thrive
As a result of modern medicine, people are living longer. Seniors are projected to make up 20 percent of the American population by 2050, whereas they only constituted 12 percent of the population in 2000.
Unfortunately, modern medicine has yet to cure the debilitating features of aging such as memory loss, impaired mobility and crippling diseases such as Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia. Therefore, longer lives also mean that there is a growing need for full-time long-term care: a growing need that for many is not being met.
For those who do have long-term care, it is often extremely expensive. Many people do not have the time or resources to take care of senior family members at home. You have an aging parent or grandparent, a full-time job and kids, and even if you have the money, you may not have the time to take care of all of them. On the other hand, you don’t want to place your aging family member into the hands of strangers.
These circumstances can contribute to the abuse and neglect of the elderly. On a large scale, we are looking more and more for a place to put seniors, rather than a way to keep them as independent and socially active as possible.
In Greenwich, we are fortunate to have a well-funded, centrally located senior center as well as several nearby nursing homes and assisted living facilities. When I worked at a local assisted living facility, I was able to see the level of care many senior need as well as their potential to contribute to society. Yet, this experience also allowed me to see that there are still many seniors who need care and companionship in Greenwich, but are not receiving it.
We not only need to improve and enlarge affordable long-term care for seniors, but also stop isolating seniors from society. People tend to avoid interactions with seniors in public. When they see a senior in a coffee shop or at the grocery store instead of smiling or saying hello, they more often than not divert their eyes or address a younger person. What people don’t realize is that a) seniors notice and b) you may be the only social interaction that senior is having that day or that week.
Our communities and society can change the status quo. On a smaller scale, families of the elderly and caretakers should try to not just meet physical needs of seniors, but their mental ones as well. A study on Alzheimer’s prevention shows that loneliness leads to higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. This disease and other forms of dementia often lead seniors to requiring 24-hour, long-term care and any successful preventative action could help keep seniors independent and thriving for longer. We need greater awareness about this issue and the steps to address it.
On a larger scale, there is not enough government funding of elderly care. Medicaid only covers 8.3 million low-income and/or disabled seniors. This number leaves out a lot of elderly Americans who may not qualify as low-income, but may be unable to afford expensive care options.
To supplement part-time care and make it more sustainable, more non-profits like Serving Seniors and Neighbor to Neighbor that provide transportation, meals, financial services and more complex individualized assistance for seniors, need to be established nationwide.
Helping seniors to stay active and as independent as possible is not only beneficial to them but extremely rewarding for the community. Because my grandmother lives with my family, I can attest to the invaluable wisdom and experience of an elderly person. Intertwining the elderly and their perspectives with the younger generations is necessary in building a community filled with diverse opinions and open minds. We must not become so youth-centric and ageist as to neglect the many years of life-experience seniors possess. To prevent seniors from fading into the background, society must promote mentally and physically active lifestyles for them through interactions and better long-term care.
The best way to support a quickly growing population of seniors is to improve the options provided to them and their families for long-term, day-to-day care, while ensuring we do not isolate them. As elders are deeply respected for their insight in foreign cultures, we too should remember these are the individuals with the most knowledge and experience. Right now, we can use all of the wisdom we can get.
Greenwich resident Brooke Lange is a senior at Greenwich Academy.