Age will prove to be one of the main social issues facing our elderly population. With the passing of the years, the rapid onset of age creates a caveat of conditions that affect our daily life. As we dive in further, you’ll be perplexed to know how far these social issues extend.
What Are the Social Issues Facing the Elderly?
In the search for a life of relaxation and stability after many years of hard work, the journey concludes with retirement from the workforce. However, once we settle into this retirement period, several issues encompassing health, financial stability, and social life come into play.
For instance, not only are seniors subjected to physical and mental decline, but they also experience an uphill battle with economic instability, unaffordable healthcare, isolation, and – sometimes – senior abuse. With so many factors at play, it can be difficult to navigate these unfortunate situations.
Improvements in modern medicine have prolonged life expectancy across the entire population. Unfortunately, though, seniors living longer lives has led to a rise of health-related issues affecting the elderly. The deterioration of one’s cognitive and physical abilities, as a result of aging, creates a situation where seniors are unable to contribute to society. Under these circumstances, it isn’t hard to imagine how age produces numerous limitations for our elderly population.
In the mental health field, seniors over the age of 60 are more than likely to suffer from a mental or neurological disorder that will hinder their day-to-day life. The World Health Organization estimates that 20% of the older population will be susceptible to a mental disorder as they continue to age.
While the type of disorders varies greatly from person to person, there’s a common set of conditions that afflict the elderly population. Some of these disorders include:
- Alzheimer’s Disease
The decline from these conditions is only heightened by physical immobility and social isolation, which become prominent following retirement. Consequently, a senior’s mental degradation only accelerates further because this demographic often lacks the resources to properly treat their condition.
With regard to physical deterioration, seniors are more likely to experience it than any other age group. Over time, a reduction in muscle mass occurs, which leads to lessened flexibility and endurance. In addition, the body sees an increase in body fat that subsequently contributes to the decline of one’s physical health. As seniors continue to age, they will be more susceptible to diseases such as:
- Parkinson’s disease
- Cardiovascular disease
- Macular disease
Besides the reduction in muscle mass, many seniors begin to experience a loss of cartilage throughout their joints coupled with inflammation that causes arthritis. Arthritis goes hand in hand with osteoporosis, which becomes common due to decreased bone density. This can give way to more fractures. Generally speaking, the decline of our elderly’s physical health will occur more often than not when factors such as financial instability play a role in seniors’ health outcomes.
When elderly people retire, their primary focus is on enjoying a comfortable post-work life. However, the trend seems to indicate that this is becoming harder as seniors continue working past their retirement age in order to meet their financial obligations. Situations will vary according to one’s economic status, but on average our elderly population finds itself tied more to debt as they struggle to keep up with the ever-increasing cost of healthcare, low pensions, and disability.
In particular, one will find that the percentage of seniors that own credit card debt has slowly risen in the past few years from 24.2% of households in 2001 to 34.2% in 2016. Moreover, the median credit card debt in people 75 and older went from $838 to $2,100.
This increase in credit debt can be attributed to previous debt held by seniors during their working years. This, coupled with the fact that seniors are struggling now more than ever to afford rising healthcare premiums with their fixed Social Security pensions, is creating a lot of financial strain. Ultimately, all of these variables make it harder for everyday seniors to achieve the financial stability they strive for.
Social Isolation (and Elder Abuse)
Two other issues that have always been prevalent within the senior community are that of social isolation and elder abuse. Both issues have their own respective impacts, and it is worth noting that each one has significant consequences for our elderly.
Human interaction is a basic yet fundamental aspect of our basic health and wellness. Humans are meant to be social creatures. However, as we grow older, our likelihood of becoming isolated rises drastically. Social isolation causes a wide array of health effects such as higher blood pressure, cognitive decline, anxiety, depression, etc. This effect accelerates and poses a risk to the elderly population as they lose friends and loved ones due to aging.
One unfortunate consequence of this isolation is that seniors are at risk of being subjected to abuse in their advanced years. Whether it is physical, mental, or financial, abuse in any of these fields is deemed elder abuse. The type of abuse can differ widely, but it always ends in seniors being neglected and/or financially exploited. For seniors that are over the age of 60, the possibility is very real.
The types of abuse can be broken down into the following:
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Healthcare fraud
What Can Be Done?
Although one may feel as though nothing can be done about the social issues facing our elderly, that isn’t to say there’s no hope. In the face of a daunting task, here are several ways in which each respective issue can be tackled.
Mental Health Promotion
One of the main ways in which we can improve the mental health of our seniors is by creating supportive and proper living conditions. When facing an issue as common as depression or anxiety, seniors require the presence of people that will be there for them in order to discourage the effects of social isolation and loneliness – while also preventing elder abuse. It is also worth noting that identifying (and then optimizing) the treatment of mental health disorders such as Alzheimer’s is key to preventing cognitive decline.
Promoting an active lifestyle is one of the best remedies against the decline of physical health and mobility within the elderly population. Activities such as walking, swimming, running, yoga, or anything that keeps you moving will lead to cardiovascular improvement and muscular retention amongst seniors that are 65 years or older. It is recommended that seniors partake in moderately intense aerobic exercise for more than 150 minutes per week in order to stay as fit as possible. For more advice on physical improvement, you can check out the World Health Organization’s Fact Sheet on how to stay healthy as you get older.
When reducing the amount of debt you hold during your later years, it is important that you sit down to reassess your options and put all of your options on the table. Luckily, there are several resources at your disposal for resolving your financial burden. In addition to being able to identify your monthly expenses and income in order to establish a budget, one can look towards finding a non-profit financial consultant to reduce and restructure debt payment, or even qualifying for Medicaid and Medicare to resolve unaffordable healthcare.
Elder Abuse Intervention
Before dealing with a case of elder abuse, you must first identify the warning signs that indicate something is wrong. Some of the signs can include depression, trouble sleeping, unexplained scars or bruises, agitation, social withdrawal, and more.
Once the signs have been identified, the next step would be to step in and have a private conversation with the abused. Offer to provide support and help from a local adult protection agency. Furthermore, there are government resources such as the Administration for Community Living which can provide you with resources and answer any questions or concerns. You can also call them directly at 1-800-677-1116.
Reduction of Isolation
Dealing with social isolation is the first step of many to ensure a quality of life for any senior. When seniors are dealing with the loss of a friend or loved one, it is important to take the initiative and engage with them.
Likewise, when dealing with social isolation, one should do their best to partake in any sort of activity that promotes mental and physical well-being. Not only do you slow down the cognitive and physical decline, but your mood is also boosted. You may also experience an increased sense of purpose in life. Community support and active involvement go a long way in reducing health risks associated with isolation while also improving your life in many ways.