The Golden Years?: Keys to Improving Senior Care

They’re the ones who fed us, sheltered us, taught us to read and write. They’re the ones who nurtured us, loved us, took care of us. Now the decades have come and gone, and it’s our time to return the favor. But providing our seniors with the care they deserve isn’t always easy, especially as their health declines and their needs increase. Worse, economic and political disparities are all too often leaving elderly populations behind.

Our seniors deserve the best of everything. Unfortunately, in today’s youth-obsessed, technology-driven culture, what they’re getting, all too often, is next to nothing. This article explores the state of senior care today, and what can–and must–be done to make it better.

The Forgotten Generation?

From social media to the 24/7 cable news cycle, political discourse seems to be saturating virtually every moment of every day. You can’t seem to escape it. But for all the political pundits and media talking heads out there, there are certain voices that seem to be strangely, appallingly silent, and those are the voices of the elder generations. 

Even as the debate rages on over issues of seemingly universal concern, from “Medicare for all” to the modern healthcare crisis, the perspectives of those who stand to be most immediately and severely affected by these issues, senior populations, are often largely excluded. And yet true, meaningful change will never be achieved unless and until we stop talking about seniors and their needs and start talking to seniors about their needs. 

Money Matters

When it comes to determining quality of life in the senior years, there are few factors more important than socioeconomic status. In fact, studies show that economic gaps only widen with age. Working class and low SES adults are more likely to enter their senior years with little or no retirement savings and insufficient Social Security benefits. Those who have lived their adult lives on the cusp of the poverty line typically fall well below it once age and infirmity make full-time work impossible

Unfortunately, seniors entering their golden years on the lower end of the socioeconomic spectrum are only going to grow more financially vulnerable as the years pass, exposing them to food insecurity, inadequate housing and healthcare, and an increased risk for financial exploitation. According to current estimates, nearly 1 in 6 seniors will experience some form of financial exploitation or fraud, with each incident cost targets an average of $30,000.

The Changing Face of Care

As important as money is, it’s nothing without good health. As the years go by, however, that gets harder to maintain. Unfortunately, as the population ages, the ability of the American healthcare system to keep pace seems increasingly in doubt.

In fact, it’s estimated that more than 10,000 Baby Boomers reach retirement age each day in the United States! And the healthcare system isn’t immune from the aging workforce: More than 1 million registered nurses, for example, are over the age of 50. 

As the general population ages and armies of healthcare workers reach retirement age, the nature of senior healthcare is inevitably going to change.

To contend with the worsening shortage of skilled healthcare providers in the US, there will be an increasing emphasis on preventative healthcare and the use of remote and wearable health technologies to automate diagnosis and treatment, making both speedier, more effective, and less labor-intensive.

The Gatekeepers

There’s perhaps no preventing the fact that the provider shortage and the resulting turn toward health technology to bridge that gap are changing the relationship between seniors and their healthcare providers. In many respects, this will provide exciting opportunities to harness the power of technology to optimize the quality of senior patient care, such as through continuous monitoring of patients’ vital signs and the increased interactivity that telemedicine makes possible.

But there is a significant dark side. Healthcare providers are often on the front lines in the fight against elder abuse. Because of their particularly close relationships and contact with senior patients, nurses are usually the first to notice the often all too subtle signs of maltreatment and neglect. Automating care or providing care at a distance may put victims at greater risk, denying them proximity to the alert eyes of the mandated reporter.

On the Move

It’s not only that there is greater risk of missing the signs of elder abuse when seniors don’t have close, physical contact with their care providers, but also that this lack of access can be a sign of a larger and more pervasive problem. Vision, hearing, and mobility issues can make driving a challenge—and risk—for seniors. 

For many seniors, however, losing the ability to drive means losing their independence, increasing their likelihood to isolate themselves in their homes. And that increases their risk of loneliness, depression, and frailty. 

Fortunately, losing the ability to drive doesn’t have to mean forfeiting freedom. There are a host of public and private transportation services in cities and towns across the US that are designed specifically for seniors. These services can not only be used to ferry seniors safely to and from medical appointments but also to transport and assist them on daily errands or recreational outings.

The Takeaway

They are our parents and our grandparents. Our teachers and our mentors. In the twilight of their lives, they deserve the kind of love and care that they gave to us when we were young and vulnerable. Unfortunately, for far too many seniors, economic disparities, lack of access to quality healthcare, and the prevalence of physical, emotional, and financial abuse are turning the golden years into a black terror. The advent of support services and advanced caregiving technologies, though, can help overcome these terrible wrongs. And they must. It is our duty and our responsibility. Our seniors deserve nothing less. 

Author: Sam Bowman
Image source: NHS