You know the elderly person who shuffles very slowly across the parking lot of your local grocery store? That is what I call a super senior. If you haven’t had one of them in your family, you will at some point, especially if you have parents who are still alive.
We are living longer. Not a little longer but much longer. In the 1930s, when Social Security became law, the average person died at age 65. Today, the average death rate is approximately 78 years old. Many people are living to over 100 years old. This creates another lifestyle category—super seniors. These are people whose quality of life has decreased due to health or mobility issues. This situation will not improve with healing or time. Old age has caught up with them and will not let go.
I feel we need to look at them in another view. We need to take care of them, but it takes special skills and knowledge to keep them active and safe. My financial planning clients have given me many ideas and concepts about how to care for this elderly group.
How to Take Care of Seniors
My first rule for this age group is to keep them safe. The biggest fear you should have for them is breaking a hip. A hip fracture can be a death sentence. I have heard statistics that nearly half the seniors who break a hip never come out of the hospital alive. Many of them are never ambulatory again. Seniors do not react well to anesthesia because of their age and this obviously is required for hip surgery.
So if safety is a concern, you should have their whole house evaluated by a qualified person. This can be a social worker, occupational therapist or a gerontologist. They should be able to evaluate the senior and see where you can improve safety in their own home. Things to consider are trip-and-fall hazards, slick surfaces, grab rails and awkward spaces in the house. This can be done for less than $800. It is money well spent. (For related reading, see: 10 Costs of Retrofitting Your House for a Senior.)
Daily mental stimulation is important to keep their minds sharp. Regular social interaction is important. Many seniors only have the television to keep them company. How sad would it be if you lived your life only according to Fox News or Oprah? There are many adult daycare programs that are inexpensive. Some include lunch to add socialization.
Common Physical Issues of Seniors
Auditory deficit is a major problem for seniors. Not being able to hear conversations or having to say “What?” constantly to others is more than annoying. An audiologist told me one of my clients had 80% hearing loss. She also told me her hearing deficit probably contributed to cognitive impairment. In other words, her hearing loss was directly related to an inability to process daily thoughts and relate to others. This is so sad because it could have been prevented.
Physical exercise regularly helps with more than physical conditioning. I had a client who did not want to get out of bed. In talking with her caretaker, she was complaining of back pain. In discussing this with her gerontologist, we decided that her lack of activity contributed to her backache. The problem is her core muscles were weak. Core muscles include her back, abdomen and oblique muscles. If they are weak, then the backbone itself is the only thing supporting her whole body. So we brought in a personal trainer who specializes in working with seniors. Within three months, she was up and walking again assisted by a walker. (For related reading, see: Failing Health Could Drain Your Retirement Savings.)
Along with her backache came depression. Be aware that this age group is prone to depression just like anyone else. The fact that they spend so much time alone sometimes can cause depression. Once she was walking again, the depression went away.
Going back to the super senior who is shuffling through the grocery store parking lot, here is the reason they shuffle. They no longer have a spring in their step. Through lack of use, their Achilles tendon has become shortened. They have no kick-off when walking; therefore they shuffle. Usually this is accompanied by a hunched back. As with the example above, their core muscles no longer support their upper body therefore they hunch over. (For related reading, see: 3 Big Medical Costs and How to Protect Against Them.)
Did you know that as we age our sense of taste decreases? There is a hypothesis that this contributes to super seniors' decrease in appetite. If food does not taste the way you remember it, it may not be as attractive. This contributes to seniors spicing their food more than when they were younger. If they lose large amounts of weight over a short period of time, you need to address their nutrition.
We need to take care of our elders. They may not be the same person you remember in your youth, but you still love them and need them. They set the pace for our world as we know it today.
(For more from this author, see: Know What You'll Do With Your Retirement.)