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Op-ed: Many aging Americans finding it difficult to meet the basics

Many elderly people in America need help.Growing old in the U.S.

Millions of older Americans struggle every year to meet their basic needs for nutrition, safe and affordable housing, adequate money to live on, and personal connections. What is really of concern is that these issues are going to escalate as our population continues to age. Let’s look at some of these issues in greater detail.

Housing for the elderly

In America today, over 13 million people age 50 and over are no longer able to afford adequate housing or live in inadequate housing right now.

Over 20 million older Americans are facing tough challenges because of unemployment. Not only do they have the largest increase in unemployment, but they also have the longest periods of time being unemployed, and the picture for the future isn’t very rosy, either. The chances of finding employment today for older people is becoming harder as our world become more technology-oriented.

Coupling unemployment with the inability to afford safe and adequate housing, we see a recipe for disaster in the making. But then, let’s add social isolation to the mix. While it is not a disease, it is an issue that plays a significant role in the well-being of the elderly.

Social isolation and hunger

Studies have shown that the incidence of heart disease, high blood pressure and depression are increased when the elderly are denied social interaction over long periods of time. This isolation can also lead to mental confusion, such as forgetting what day it is, or even worse, making mistakes in taking prescription medications.

Hunger, because of a lack of money to buy food or because of forgetting to eat is also a very real problem. Without someone to help them, over 9 million elderly Americans are at risk of going hungry every day, a sharp rise of 79 percent in just the last 10 years. Older people living in the South are at the greatest risk of going to bed hungry.

And all this ties in with what is paid first when Social Security comes in every month. On average, the number of people living on $11,000 a year or less after paying out-of-pocket medical expenses, including prescription drug costsb has jumped from nine percent to 16 percent. And this leaves us to wonder why food and a roof over your head is taking a back-seat to medical expenses.

What is being done to help our aging population?

Of particular interest to policy makers at the federal level is the necessity of finding enough housing that is safe and affordable to meet the needs of the elderly. At the present time, the government provides support for 1.3 million elderly households through its rental housing programs. The programs are totally inadequate to meet the needs of the 13 million people in need of housing right now.

While there are many companies and individuals that care for the elderly, we definitely need more caregivers. We need people willing to go to the grocery store, help with cleaning and personal hygiene, and even do nothing more than visit an older person for a short period of time.

Looking back, this writer remembers when putting an aged relative into a nursing home caused quite a family discussion, not all of it pleasant. Then over the years, our country saw a rise in the number of “assisted living” facilities, where a family atmosphere was maintained, including outings and group activities.

But we ‘baby boomers’ are a different breed from past generations. We want to grow old with a semblance of individuality, aging in place, if you will. And this independent attitude has created a problem of monumental proportions when it comes to finding adequate, affordable and safe housing. The U.S. and the rest of the world was warned years ago that the issue of an aging population would reach the point where something would have to be done.

It is now the time that something has be done before it’s too late.


About the Author

Karen Graham
Karen Graham

Karen is a widowed grandmother living in Richmond, Virginia. She is a retired medical technologist, and more recently retired as a chef. A lover of history, she is of the opinion that events taking place today are part of the larger cycle of humankind’s story. She also believes we are never too old to learn.

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