Improving the Quality of Life for You and Your Parents, by Dr. Eva Mor, Author of “Making the Golden Years Golden”
If someone were to ask how we would like to see ourselves in the later years of our lives, most of us would respond: independent, healthy, and active. This is not such a far-fetched dream as had been for our parents, and even they achieved those ambitions from time to time..
The life expectancy today in the United States is 72.5 years for men, and 79.3 years for women; the average life span will increase significantly by 2050, if we learn to control the epidemic of illnesses due to overweight and decrease in physical activities in our younger population. Our society should be prepared to face the needs of the aging population that will be living much longer.
The coming years will present a need for the health care community to not only to study and research ways to prolong our lives, but to find ways to make people live the extended life span in quality and fulfillment. The elderly should continue to have rich and joyful years, and not struggle with insufficient health insurance, and having to make decisions on whether to buy food or medication.
With the right educational support system, the baby boomers may be entering their senior years healthier, with better health practices, like getting sufficient sleep, exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, not smoking, and having good relationships with the people in their lives. It may seem obvious, but living by those tenants really does make a difference.
A great many of the boomer generation have investments producing income, pensions, and savings that help to provide for an active and fulfilling life without financial worry. Many baby boomers are well traveled, well read, politically active, and taking part in their community activities and programs.
They will hopefully maintain and/or increase their involvement. If they continue to be active socially, take political stands, and help to form a better society for them and the seniors of the next generation, it will not only enrich their lives but also change the way the rest of the society perceives the elderly and the aging process. This generation will force improvement of existing programs, such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
The sheer voting power of 70 million people, aged 55 years and older, can practically force politicians to vote for their issues, and we should remember that when the time comes to vote for our congressman, senator or president. One must remember that most of the members of the Congress and Senate qualify for membership in the senior age group.
In spite of the current unemployment numbers and so many baby boomers facing retirement, the market will suffer a loss if very highly experienced and productive employees will be forced from the force work. Again, although I am not an economist, I am sure the economic market cannot afford it. So it’s easy to see that changes will be implemented to encourage workers either not to retire, or to return to the work force. Remaining fully or partially employed will be beneficial to the seniors and to the economy at large.
So if you are at the stage of retiring, you should look at the possibility of continuing working, especially if it’s not necessarily full time. One could live a very active life, maintaining physical activities and social activities, and continue to work.
The federal and state government should provide educational programs and guidelines, to promote better health practices. Gyms and exercise programs should be tax-deductible. Senior citizens centers that provide hot lunches for a very low fee and are subsidized by the federal government, should advocate better eating habits and educate the participants in practicing a healthy life-style.
This will promote better health in the elderly, and decrease illnesses such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart problems, etc. Your state should offer free health screening, flu shots, and high blood pressure checks measured free of charge as well at senior community centers, and many centers offer such programs, check if yours does.
The state should develop programs that will allow people to remain in their homes for as long as it is safe for them to do so. It should go without saying that a person would not be removed from his home for any reason other than safety issues. This is especially true for the lonely people that do not have family members involved in their lives. There should be more improved programs, similar to the one existing currently, Protective Services, that can evaluate a person to see if she or he is physically and mentally safe to continue to reside in their home.
Unfortunately, many such programs today are either understaffed, or staffed with people who are inexperienced and under-trained. There should be a network to maintain the elderly in his or her home, with an oversight and connection to the community.
By now the federal and state government must recognize the fact that it is much cheaper to keep a person in his home with a home care aide, rather than to keep the same person in a nursing home. If the elderly is financially independent, and can purchase long-term care insurance, thus allowing him or her to remain home, protective services should look out for their safety, just as well as the seniors that the government pays for their care through Medicaid.
Although there are many types of insurance for long term care, and at times it is hard to navigate the field, each state should find a way to make available reasonably priced long-term insurance, which would allow seniors to remain home, living with dignity, without depleting their hard-earned savings.
Centralized advisory systems should be put in place. That program will help seniors find advice on handling his or her particular needs. A social worker should be available to coordinate sources of services provision as needs present themselves. If centralized programs are established in every city and town, there is less of a chance that some elderly person will fall through the cracks. Such a coordinator may also reduce service duplication, thus reduce cost.
With such programs, the population in general becomes aware of lonely and needy persons among them. Such programs will help our seniors’ age with dignity. Today, this program will refer to your parent, your family member, your neighbor or friend; tomorrow, this program will provide you with the information to help you with your needs.
The baby boomers had the benefit of growing up in a time where medicine was much more available: vaccinations, antibiotics, and improved surgical procedures were the norm. New treatments for debilitating and fatal diseases have been developed. Those treatments helped to make such diseases more manageable and less deadly. New and better medications have helped to control some of the symptoms of diseases and allow for the patient to live longer and maintain their quality of life – something that was not possible in their parents’ and grandparents’ generation.
People live longer, which means that the pool of chronically ill and disabled people is growing. Unfortunately our public health system and the medical services delivery system are not adequate to provide blanket care to cover the increases.
What Your State and You Can Do
Armed with the knowledge of better health practices, we can, as a society, promote better eating habits, exercise, and promote non-smoking. Just by making the above lifestyle changes, we can improve our health and quality of life, and decrease the cost of what it takes to provide health care for such a vast population. With proper planning and foresight, we can improve our system of health management in time to withstand such a large influx of seniors.
We also need to develop better geriatric services and train professionals to deal specifically with the needs of the elderly. The local government needs to establish points of services that are easily reachable and accessible for seniors.
Centralized points of services can provide not only health care, but also educational support and nutritional support. Social services, advisory services on the benefits of Medicare and Medicaid, and other services provided by the federal government and the local government, can be made available through traditional senior centers or newly established health clinics.
A great deal of other services can be developed in these clinics as well. Social groups for community activism can be started. Lectures could be offered on topics that touch the elderly, such as sources of benefits, safe usage of medication, home health care, transportation, charities that offer free hot meals, to name a few. Many of these services can be offered at minimal or no cost.
Another source where the elderly can get services and information are from the hospitals in their own community. A great number of hospitals provide a whole range of services and programs for the benefit of the community, for old and young alike. Flu shots and advisory programs for prevention and treatment of chronic illnesses are often made available. It is always beneficial to establish a personal relationship with the staff at your neighborhood hospital.
These suggestions are not only for people who live alone, but are also for almost anyone else: any elderly person, whether healthy or sick, can benefit from these suggestions. At our website www.goldenyearsgolden.com you will find sources and resources, links, addresses, and phone numbers that can help you to find some of the existing programs that may help you in your specific case. Hopefully, in the years to come there will be a great deal more programs, as politicians and society in general will be more attuned to the needs of the seniors.
Keeping all this in mind, we as individuals need to take responsibility for our own health and practice good habits. We should eat better, practice preventive measures to protect our health, maintain good hygiene, practice good sleeping routines, exercise regularly, and, above all, be mentally stimulated.