Everybody's business

Everybody's business

An increasingly older population finds ways to age ‘successfully’

By Marvin Schachter 04/29/2010

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A century ago, one out of 100 Americans reached the age of 65. In 2015, 20 of every 100 people will reach that age, and the fastest growing cohort (what demographers call population groupings) will be over the age of 85. And that trend, thanks to better science and diet, will continue. Reaching 100 will not be unusual.
This, of course, should make readers of all ages happy, but as  participants in this Friday's unique Pasadena Senior Conference can tell you, living longer is better than the alternative — and can even be great — but is not an unalloyed blessing. 
This year’s conference, titled “Successful Aging,” is sponsored by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Kaiser Permanente, the Pasadena Senior Center and the city of Pasadena Senior Commission. With the help of an active corps of volunteers, conferences like this one have been effective in bringing together hundreds of older adults and people who work with and support seniors to discuss the challenge that aging represents.
Is successful aging possible?
Yes, absolutely.
Is it a sure thing and easily accomplished?
Are we doing what we can and what is needed to help older adults navigate stormy weather?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no.
Are we planning for the absolutely unprecedented explosion in the number of the “oldest of the old” — 
people over age 85?
Not nearly enough.
If you are young and aging seems incredibly far off, you should realize that if you are lucky and escape disease, natural disasters and manmade catastrophes, you too, believe it or not, will be a senior. And besides, nearly everybody has parents. There are also older relatives, friends, neighbors, co-workers. As the population predictions show, older people will be an increasingly visible part of society. Aging is everybody’s business.
Before Social Security, before Medicare, when longevity was shorter and life expectancy was far more limited, responsibility lay with the family. Old folks lived with relatives, and very few much beyond their working years. 
It has been noted that during the current “Great Recession,” intergenerational living arrangements have become more common. Despite all that has changed, family responsibility remains. But the fact is that our society is more mobile and families are often quite scattered geographically.
My mother, who lived until she was 96, used to say, “Rich or poor, it’s better to have money.”
The 2010 Census will give us a more accurate picture, but recent California studies indicate that about 10 percent of the elderly have incomes above $75,000. Nearly half of those polled are at mid-range level of above $15,000 and below $75,000. Close to 40 percent of seniors have an income below $15,000, with at least half of the category — mainly women — living in absolute poverty.
The Great Recession has decimated much of the sense of security of the middle-income group. They have suffered sharp decreases in income from sources other than Social Security and a drastic decline in the valuation of property, pensions and investments.
Among middle-income seniors who are not eligible for the Medical programs designed for poverty-level recipients, there is great concern about the bankrupting high cost of assisted living if a serious illness strikes. A residential facility in California would cost $5,000 a week, and very often more. If the family attempts to provide care at home, it could easily cost just as much. In such circumstances, the resources of a family can be wiped out. 
Middle-income seniors are panic-stricken when they consider a possible health crisis. Federal Medicaid (Medical in California) does provide long-term, crisis home hospital care for very low income seniors and the disabled, but the in-home supportive service programs that are administered by the state have been sharply reduced.
I hope I am not painting too dismal a picture. The 2010 Pasadena Senior Conference will be a happy, enjoyable celebration. With expert participants, we will discuss what each one of us can do as individuals to age successfully, taking proper responsibility for our own health to the best of our ability. 
We know that the passage of Social Security in the 1930s and Medicare in the 1960s have created a foundation for the well-being of older Americans. Other legislation has built on that foundation, including prescription drug coverage in the 1990s and many provisions of the recently passed health care reform laws, which will strengthen Medicare and include a new program for future generations supporting long-term care.
The point of this essay is to emphasize that senior issues are everybody’s issues. And, of course, everybody else’s issues are our issues as well. Education is a senior issue. Health care for all is a senior issue. Housing, transportation and the environment are all senior issues. If it is true that it takes a village to raise a child, it is also true that it takes an involved, mutually responsible, active, thoughtful people to raise a nation. 

Marvin Schachter, a 46-year Pasadena resident, is a member of the executive council of AARP California and chair of the Senior Advocacy Council of Pasadena.

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