Since time immemorial, old age has been symbolic of experience and wisdom. As young people rejoice in their vigor and strength, those advanced in age receive their splendor through gray hair and fine lines. It is a station in life not many are privileged to reach, and those who do deserve special honor.
The old have the unique opportunity to pass down their pearls of insight to the young. In a way, the precursor generation is the pillar for the ones that follow. However (and sadly so), the roles seem to have reversed in the modern world.
Today, society’s pillars are being cast down as older adults are struggling to survive. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 2022 suicide rates were highest among those aged 65 and above.
Seniors are yielding to years of estrangement from children, chronic health conditions, mobility problems, and most importantly, bitter social isolation. In an age of being encircled by trotting grand and great-grandchildren, our elders are suffering in silence. What’s even worse is that at least one million American seniors are ‘kinless,’ with only pets or nearby store workers to interact with.
In this article, we will explore how the crown of glory of times past has become a modern-day curse.
Being Alone is Not the Main Problem
Are a significant number of seniors spending their sunset years all alone? Yes, over 28% of them (14.7 million). Man, being a social creature, was designed to thrive in numbers. Living secluded from society can lead to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, etc.
Also, this makes it easier for some to fall through the cracks as their bodies are later discovered during welfare checks. Harsh as it may sound, it is the sad reality for America’s elderly. This does not automatically include the kinless. In most cases, it’s a matter of compulsion.
Let’s take the example of a happy family residing in the suburbs of Rockville, MD. Their only daughter, Anne, was born late in life, and by the time she is to be married, her parents are over 70. After marriage, Anne’s husband decides to purchase a family home in Brunswick (due to exorbitant real estate costs in Rockville).
Despite being safe and affordable, Brunswick is a 43-minute drive away from Rockville (on a good traffic day). Anne can invite her parents to live with her, but if they decline (as most seniors do), she has to move alone. The compulsion part is understandable, but it should never be an excuse.
To avoid the scenarios mentioned above, Anne keeps a tab on her parents’ well-being through in-home care services in Rockville. Her parents need part-time care with housekeeping, cooking, and transportation (all of which are tailored and provided for). Plus, customized care will cost less compared to full-time community assistance.
If every family member did their bit in this manner, senior isolation rates would decline. Unfortunately, simply living alone is not the main issue. Another area that psychologically impacts seniors’ well-being is the inability to cope with the advancing world.
Tragic as it is, hardly has any other generation ever treated their elderly with such contempt as today. Instead of gathering around them for anecdotes and wisdom, many youngsters consider seniors to be unprogressive and a nuisance.
This also has to do with the older generation’s struggle to understand technology, being hard-of-hearing, or even clumsy at times. Despite being surrounded by family, such seniors feel invisible and like they’re a burden. If positive intergenerational contact ceases to exist, the dismissed senior may choose to retire to a state of self-isolation.
Seniors Struggle to Transition
An increasing number of seniors (over 818,800) are making the toughest choice of their lives – assisted living. This may be the best option for the widowed and those with mobility issues. The family can rest easy knowing that their elderly loved one’s welfare is not at risk.
However, emotions often triumph over logic, especially when seniors are already struggling to accept their frailty. The most common problem is related to driving. Nearly 57.1% of road crashes in 2021 involved an older adult behind the wheel. However, the average age at which older adults give up their keys is 75 years (even then, unwillingly).
There are state laws also supporting this. For instance – the state of Massachusetts (MA) requires seniors aged 75 or above to renew their license in person. The process may involve an eye test and medical examination to confirm the senior’s ability to drive around safely. For those who viewed driving as therapy, failing the tests comes as a severe blow.
If self-driving is the only limitation, the elderly can always use public transportation. However, small rural towns in MA like Sudbury do not have such facilities. In such cases, the family can ensure their senior’s well-being through home care in Sudbury.
This way, the senior will not lose their freedom. According to Always Best Care Senior Services, home care can be customized to include meal-prepping and transportation only. Furthermore, adjusting to a life of mobility issues is not easy either.
Many seniors need help moving around, getting in and out of a chair, going to the bathroom, dressing, etc. However, it’s often difficult to accept help as it can almost feel like being stripped of one’s dignity.
In an attempt to resist help, many seniors end up in gruesome falls, especially in the bathroom. Studies show that over one in four American seniors fall each year. Given their already declining vitality, many suffer severe injuries like paraplegia, broken bones, etc., and become bedridden.
In light of such challenges, family members must always begin with multiple honest, heart-to-heart conversations. The elderly’s involvement in their care plan is crucial, especially since many prefer to stay in place rather than in an assisted facility. Then, depending on the finances, an informed decision can be taken.
Recognizing the Most Muffled Cries
Now, let’s move from the broad to the narrowest definition of senior members – those without immediate family to lean on. It’s natural to assume that everyone has at least someone to call family, but that’s not true for 6.6% of older adults in the US.
An example is that of Lynne Ingersoll, who lost her sister three years ago (and became kinless ever since). She jokes that her social life involves interactions with doctors and store clerks. With chronic issues like heart disease and arthritis, Lynne understands that her ability to manage by herself is declining (but she has no idea what to do).
Seniors without any surviving family are at a higher risk of premature death. America may have developed a robust healthcare system but failed to erect a senior care system that’s at par. There is currently no notable public program in place to help older adults with weak social ties.
As for Medicaid, the problem is that most seniors have an income that’s too high to qualify for it. However, some sociologists and researchers have smaller solutions that might work. Philanthropic and public support could help set up co-housing or shared housing facilities for the kinless.
Also, caregiving policies and support programs could be expanded to include neighbors, friends, or distant relatives. This aspect is of utmost urgency because kinlessness is expected to rise. This owes to the fact that starting from Baby Boomers, people have chosen to either not marry or not have many children.
Aging is hard enough; to do so in complete isolation is among the most muted yet brutal forms of suffering.
In the last century, the average family size in the US has been constantly shrinking. People no longer want their quiver to be full of children, mainly due to rising costs of living. Some (especially among millennials) are delaying marriage or giving it up altogether.
Given the current state of affairs, old age has already become a curse for many. By 2030, almost every Baby Boomer will be at least 65 years of age. There will be more older adults than children in the US.
One can only imagine what the scenario will be like by the end of this decade. With this, concerns for the upcoming generations also arise. They may be discarding life’s meatier aspects for frivolous ones, the full weight of which may not be felt until the autumnal stage of life.