Is society prepared to care for elderly?

By the Advocate Editorial Board
Nov. 28, 2017 at 4:21 p.m.

What are we gonna do about mom and dad? No, really. This is the conversation no one wants to have, but it's necessary for the health and happiness of the entire family.

More and more families will and should be talking about how to care for their older relatives and ways to help them as they reach the last years of their lives. There's a way to lend a hand without taking away their desire to live independently. Still, often it rests on the rest of the family to pay for assisted living expenses, medical expenses and more.

We are living much longer than our ancestors did thanks to the marvels of medicine and technology, but this begs the question of whether we as a society are truly prepared to care for the elderly. What happens to our older neighbors who do not have children to step in and help?

The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that by the year 2060, one in four Americans will be 65 or older.

Do we have enough systems in place to ensure our older population remains at home safely for as long as they wish? By systems, I mean access to affordable and high-quality home health care, transportation, opportunities for socialization and at the bare minimum a nutritious hot meal. We certainly should be supporting these types of programs.

Dan Williams-Capone, executive director of the Victoria County Senior Citizens Association, advocates for the expansion of programs that serve our older residents. He runs the two local senior centers and Meals on Wheels, and without substantial support from donations and the Victoria County United Way, it's possible he would have to resort to a waiting list and cut vital services.

His staff and network of volunteers at the nonprofit are often serving as a safety net for those over 60. They tirelessly provide the most basic of needs for our residents on a fixed or low income - including meals, transportation and social opportunities. The delivery drivers are visiting with homebound seniors every weekday and notifying the agency with any concerns.

The recipients of the meals are usually waiting at the door with a smile and sometimes a hug. That short moment of human interaction is priceless.

Community-based senior nutrition programs help keep older residents out of hospitals and nursing homes, which saves billions in Medicare and Medicaid costs, according to Meals on Wheels America.

The organization reports that more than 30 percent of Texas seniors are living in or near poverty, 22 percent are isolated and living alone and 19 percent are struggling with hunger.

As the nation's older population continues to grow, we must look for ways to accommodate their needs by supporting the organizations committed to helping seniors, support lawmakers whose policies won't undermine funding for these programs and look at our own family's future.

Consider purchasing long-term care insurance and discuss your wishes with your children. Many families are building their homes to accommodate an older relative moving in. Any kind of planning will only help.

And for those who already have a plan, consider donating a gift to "Be a Santa to a Senior" this season. There are plenty of senior citizens in need who could use some cheer and would appreciate the warm gesture.

This opinion reflects the views of the Victoria Advocate's editorial board.


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