Due to aging baby boomers, seniors are the largest growing sector of our population. Every day, 10,000 baby boomers turn 65. This is the generation that was known to have said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30!” With an unending youthful outlook, boomers never envisioned becoming the older generation.
With this growing reality, let’s survey the horizon and try to assess what this means.
In many ways, we are blessed. We are the healthiest and most affluent “older generation” in recorded history. I acknowledge that isn’t true for all and there are no guarantees, even for those with strong financial underpinnings and good health.
Therefore, it is important to understand the “state of aging.”
On a multiple levels, we should look at ourselves, our local communities and the support systems available to us. We should examine our ability to be self-reliant; realistically gauge the supportive strength of friends and family, and the availability of in-home assistance; look at Seattle-area senior living providers; and assess our need to access government aid.
Being realistic is not always easy because, naturally and unconsciously, we all maintain some level of denial about aging issues.
This year, the National Council on Aging conducted a survey on aging that resulted in interesting statistics. Those who exercise daily report having more positive outlooks on life. Seniors see themselves as highly self-reliant and have a high level of confidence about their abilities to deal with changes in health. Nearly 90 percent reported they were very confident or somewhat confident about their ability to maintain a high quality of life throughout their senior years. Only a quarter expect their health to decline.
Nearly 60 percent feel confident about their ability to stay in their current homes as long as they like. Most believe support from their families will allow them to maintain a high quality of life.
On the other hand, when surveyed about the level of the preparation for living out their senior years, only 30 percent have done a great deal of preparation; one-fourth have done none or little, while the rest have done some preparation. Half of those surveyed are somewhat concerned or very concerned about their savings and income being sufficient to last the rest of their lives.
More than 60 percent attribute their ability to maintain a positive outlook to a combination of faith, family, personal attitude and a happy marriage or relationship. One-fifth attribute their positive outlook to either good health or their physical or mental activity. Only 5 percent attribute a positive attitude to being financially secure.
As I looked at the survey results, it was nice to see people don’t associate having money with a positive outlook. But, in some areas, I see “disconnects” between wishful thinking and the reality of aging.
I also detect a couple of dominant themes. First is the desire to stay at home. Second: Many believe they have a supportive network of family and friends.
As people age, we want to remain in our traditional homes where we feel comfortable and safe. To provide balance to this thought, think about the issues your grandparents or maybe an aging friend faced. There can be stumbling blocks: isolation, safety and access, deteriorating health, availability of help and the upkeep of the home.
To great degree, the survey results showed that people think a supportive family network will help them age in place. From my experience, unless an aging person intentionally establishes an active support network, support from the family will not be as strong as the aging person thinks.
Through discussions about expectations and feasibility, establish what this network might look like. Include friends and neighbors. Formalize the network by creating a phone and email tree. Don’t make demands or have expectations so high that you drive potential volunteer caregivers away. When reaching out to your neighbors, offer to be there for them as well. We never know who will be the first person to need a hip replacement, right?
When people reach a point of needing caregivers, seniors want to be treated with honesty and respect and know that their caregiver is knowledgeable and proactively engaged in managing the senior’s health.
Someone said, “Getting old is not for sissies.” With all the aging boomers out there, at least we can get old with mutually supportive friends.
MARLA BECK is the founder and president of Andelcare Inc., which provides in-home eldercare. Submit questions by calling (206) 838-1844 or via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.