by Morgan Montalvo
As America’s population skews older, poverty and social isolation among the nation’s elderly are generating increasing dialogue among families and experts on aging, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
Government data as analyzed by the American Association of Retired Persons places the number of people over the age of 65 living near or below the poverty level at one in seven, or about 37 million senior households, and the number of elders with little to no social or family contact at one in five.
Financial insecurity and loneliness during holidays can magnify feelings of desperation and hopelessness, says Emily Allen, AARP Foundation’s Senior Vice President for Programs.
“Perhaps a life transition has occurred,” Allen says. “They have lost a spouse or a partner, or have experienced hearing loss or the inability to continue to drive.”
She says with families together for the holidays, adult children of seniors and grandchildren can help by developing personal inventories that assess a senior relative's physical, mental and social health.
“It can be the start of a conversation just to say, ‘How do we ensure that this older family member remains engaged?’” Allen says. “Not only with the family, but remember it’s also about sustained and meaningful relationships in their communities.”
Allen says elder health inventories should also include an emergency plan in case of illness or a man-made or natural disaster.
Questions for an older family member’s personal inventory, Allen says, can include: “How often does Mom or Dad get out of the house?” “What’s the size of their social network?”
“Who might they have that they can call in the event of an emergency?” “It’s questions like that that you can use as the basis for having that dialogue with an older adult that you love in your life,” Allen says.
She also emphasizes the importance of in-person visits as often as possible over phone or video calling, especially for children and young adults used to “communicating” via texts and social media.
“Technology can be there,” Allen says, “but sometimes even the younger generation needs to be prompted to think about ‘How might I talk to my grandparent, my parent, a close loved one who is older?’
As stereotypes about aging shift from images of sedentary, gray-haired elders playing board games in drab retirement centers to those of affluent, active seniors scaling peaks or white-water kayaking, Allen says it's time for a reality-based national debate about aging, deciding in advance how best to care for a future majority senior population, reducing current poverty and isolation rates among the aged, and rediscovering the collective wisdom of over-65 Americans.
“This is a population that is rich with experience and stories and just a lifetime of thoughts and advice. If we leave that segment of the population out, we’re really missing out as a country and as a community.
“We can’t leave their voices out,” Allen says.
To learn more about reducing social isolation among seniors, go to: https://connect2affect.org/