Deb Taylor is the CEO of Senior Community Services and its Reimagine Aging Institute, a nonprofit that helps older adults and caregivers navigate aging to maintain independence and quality of life. For more information: www.seniorcommunity.org

America’s Appalling Reality

We Don't Seem to Care About Our Older Adults


March 2018

BY DEB TAYLOR

Last month, writer Susan Perry wrote a very compelling article entitled “America’s appalling reality: we don’t care about our children” for the Minnesota online media site, MinnPost. As the CEO of Senior Community Services, a nonprofit exclusively serving older adults, I’d like to suggest another appalling reality: we don’t care about our older adults.

Cases in point:

A 2015 study conducted  by the Institute of Health Research revealed that 9.2 percent of all older adults experience food insecurity — meaning 9.2 percent of all older adults in America don’t know where their next meal is coming from.

The National Center for Elder Abuse reports that approximately one in 10 older adults have experienced elder abuse in some form, with 60 percent of this abuse inflicted by a family member.

And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year. To paint a picture of what this looks like, every 11 seconds, an older adult is treated in the emergency room for a fall and every 19 minutes, an older adult dies from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of fatal injury and the most common cause of nonfatal trauma-related hospital admissions among older adults. Falls result in more than 2.8 million injures treated in emergency departments annually, including 800,000 hospitalizations and more than 27,000 deaths.

Furthermore, falls can still cause injury even if the fall itself doesn’t cause any physical harm. When an older adult lives in fear of falling they often limit their activity level and social engagements, which can cause feelings of loneliness, isolation and depression.

Having meaningful social engagement is a critical component of healthy aging. A few years ago Brigham Young University researchers conducted a study on the impact of loneliness and found that social isolation increases one’s risk of death by nearly 30 percent — making loneliness a potentially greater health risk than obesity or smoking.

Depression is also a serious health issue among older adults. More than two million older adults suffer from some form of depression; individuals aged 65 and older account for 20 percent of all suicide deaths, despite making up only 13 percent of the U.S. population.

Statistics aside, however, do Americans really care about our older adults?

If we cared about our older adults, why don’t more than three million older adults know where their next meal is coming from?

If we cared about our older adults, why are so many older adults abused by the people they’re supposed to be able to trust the most?

If we cared about our older adults, why are we not taking greater action to educate people about falls and how to prevent them?

If we cared about older adults, why is there such a disproportionate and disturbing amount of older adults taking their own lives?

It’s time we start seeing the older adults around us. It’s time we start valuing the older adults in our communities. It’s time we start looking beyond ourselves and helping the older adults in our society.

 

Deb Taylor can be reached at d.taylor@seniorcommunity.org

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