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Boomers Going Bust – Elderly Reap The Whirlwind – Updates

October 5, 2008

What we don’t see a lot of during this age of economic crisis are options to protect the rapidly expanding elderly and disabled population of America.  From an age where Social Security was sufficient to support a modest and frugal lifestyle, this population was confident that they could make ends meet, with dignity, without burdening their families.

update icon Staying Independent in Old Age, With a Little Help

… last month, my aunt’s long-term care insurance ran out, and her meager savings will soon do the same. Then what?

Her daughters, both of whom work to support their families, cannot afford the $150 a day for 24-hour care by a certified home health aide, and my aunt has nothing to sell that could bring in the needed cash. Nor does she yet qualify for Medicaid or have a terminal illness that would justify hospice care, which would be covered by Medicare.

Complicating matters, her daughters long ago promised that they would not put her in a nursing home.

How to Know When Home Alone Is No Longer a Good Idea:  Paula Spencer Scott, senior editor at Caring.com, recently compiled a guide to help families determine when the time has come to move older relatives from their homes and into a more supportive environment or, alternatively, to bring in a home health aide who can provide assistance. These signs to look for and questions to ask are adapted from Ms. Scott’s recommendations.

Out of options:  Rising prices are forcing elders to make difficult choices with their money

“When I retired nine years ago, things weren’t too bad,” said 69-year-old widower Stephen Sanick, who lost a hand in an industrial accident years ago and two toes to diabetes last November. “Now, I have to watch my pennies. The gasoline prices are knocking the daylights out of me, and my money isn’t going as far as it used to at the grocery store. What used to cost me $12 or $13 now costs me $20.”

As they field calls from elders anxious about the economy, advocates for the poor fear many of the region’s most vulnerable seniors will face even tougher decisions in the coming months. Buy needed medications, or pay the heating bill? Patch the leaky roof, or pay the mortgage?

Local social service agencies say thousands of seniors are living in fear, worried about how they’ll make ends meet on scant pensions and Social Security checks during the cold weather months ahead.

“We’re getting hundreds of phone calls each month from seniors who need help with medical bills, heating bills, shelter, even clothing,” said Rosanne DiStefano, executive director of Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley Inc., a nonprofit agency working to help elders remain in their own homes. The agency serves seniors in 23 communities stretching from Dunstable to Amesbury.

“The people we serve are not living off retirement plans,” said DiStefano. “These are people who get by on Social Security and scant savings. Until now, they’ve managed to keep their heads above water, but as the costs of basic necessities continue to escalate, we’re seeing unprecedented levels of fear and anxiety.”

Such fears are driving many seniors back into the labor force. Today, more than 6 million workers are 65 or older, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. And over the next decade, the number of 55-and-up workers is expected to rise at more than five times the rate of the overall workforce, the federal agency reported.

“Years ago, folks would retire and, six months later, they’d go out and get part-time jobs to have something to do,” said Susan Cripps, a counselor with the SHINE (Serving the Health Information Needs of Elders) program, who helps seniors across the Merrimack Valley navigate the complex world of Medicare. “Now, we’re seeing a lot of seniors getting jobs to supplement their income. This seems to be especially true for older women who typically stayed home to raise their children and didn’t put much into their retirement plans, or didn’t have retirement plans at all.”

But for elders like Sanick who suffer serious health problems, returning to the 9-to-5 grind is not an option. Instead, they’re being forced to delay home repairs or rethink their lifestyle. Some seniors are clipping coupons or carpooling. Others are finding they must change their eating habits in order to rein in costs at the supermarket.

“A lot of elders rely on frozen dinners and prepared foods, because of the convenience they offer, but with the cost of food going up and up, they’re finding they have to do more of their own food preparation,” said Martha Cashins, who owns and operates a Home Instead Senior Care franchise that helps 80 elderly clients in more than 30 Essex County communities from Andover to Salisbury maintain a safe and independent lifestyle. “We try to help our clients in any way that we can, from taking them to medical appointments and the movies, to helping them with meal preparation or finding a handyman to make minor home repairs.”

In the most desperate cases, frail elders are playing Russian roulette with their health. Barbara Howes, 73, a widow, went without her prescription medications last year in order to keep the heat on in her Haverhill apartment. She ended up in the hospital. This year, in hopes of averting a similar scenario, she’s applying for fuel assistance.

People are living longer lives these days than we used to. This means that many adults who themselves are approaching retirement are responsible for the care of elderly parents. There are two major ways in which these adults often have to assist their aging parents: financially and through caregiving.

Financially, many elderly people find themselves in a tight position. They don’t have enough money to continue living in their home and paying their bills. They often have to move in with their adult children because they simply can’t pay to support themselves on a fixed income. Alternatively, adults with parents in situations like these may be responsible for assisting parents in figuring out their financial options (such as helping them to get a reverse mortgage loan) or they may need to help pay some of the parents’ bills.

In addition to financial assistance, these adults often have to provide some care for their parents as they age. Some will get caregiver training to care for the parent in the home. Getting some basic caregiver education from a place that is skilled in training in home care providers can greatly assist these adults in figuring out how to appropriately care for aging parents into the later years of life.

The history of how America treated it’s elderly is described in this comprehensive special feature that takes elder care from 1776 to the 1980s.

History of Long Term Care

Summary  1779: America is a young society, “Old age security” meant having children or wealth, Poorhouses became home to the indigent elderly, The earliest federal welfare and pension programs are developed.
Current US policies for the elderly and infirm.
The Office of Disability, Aging, and Long-Term Care Policy (DALTCP) is charged with developing, analyzing, evaluating, and coordinating HHS policies and programs which support the independence, productivity, health, and long-term care needs of children, working age adults, and older persons with disabilities.

What happens now?  The history of elderly and abandoned is wrought with disparities.  Some manage, some don’t.  The most desperate just go without.  Too many elders become targets of opportunity for exploitation. Forced to trust strangers, elders are a gold rush for crooks. They are also a burden on struggling families who resent the intrusion of a high maintenance family member.  Frustration often escalates into elder abuse.

What is elder abuse?

Elder financial abuse has become a hidden national epidemic


AoA Joins Launch of Aging with Dignity National Call to Action Campaign

Older Americans Act and Aging Network

Elder Rights Protection

The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)

Elders Rights & Resources

AoA has a strong commitment to protecting the rights of seniors. Our community-based long-term care programs allow millions of seniors to age in place with dignity. AoA also supports a range of activities at the state and local level designed to prevent elder fraud and abuse, inform seniors of their rights, and help them to make end-of-life decisions.

Elder Rights & Resources:

How to Find Help:

How to Find Help Resources: (Other Links):

What we don’t see a lot of during this age of economic crisis are options to protect the rapidly expanding elderly and disabled population of America.  From an age where Social Security was sufficient to support a modest and frugal lifestyle, this population was confident that they could make ends meet, with dignity, without burdening their families. They cannot.  This makes them vulnerable … and easy targets for people who never expect to grow old. More people need to wonder who will care for them when they no longer can care for themselves ….

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2 Comments
  1. January 14, 2009 11:57 am

    These people seem to be the silent casualties of the economic trouble we currently find ourselves engulfed in. The survival and living conditions of the older population is ultimately no less important than anyone else’s, but at a time when every segment of the population has concerns about how to make ends meet, their needs simply get overlooked, so they’re forced to take the risky and unfortunate actions described above. It’s good that there are at least certain community programs that assist in the small ways they are able to, but it’s simply not enough, apparently.

  2. October 9, 2008 7:11 am

    Our community-based long-term care programs allow millions of seniors to age in place with dignity. AoA also supports a range of activities at the state and local level designed to prevent elder fraud and abuse, inform seniors of their rights, and help them to make end-of-life decisions.

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