Independence: No Small Issue
For over ten years I ran a transportation service catering to seniors and others in need. We took people to medical appointments, helped with errands, and ferried them to social engagements. This past August I decided to close down my transportation service to begin writing articles to help seniors remain independent. Since “helping seniors remain independent” had not only been my goal but also part of my logo, I thought I’d kick off my new career writing on “independence”.
I was confident I had a good grasp on this issue, but I could not have been more wrong. My research began with the title: “independence issues for seniors”. This query returned more than43 million articles. I was, needless to say, amazed by the number. Hoping to embark on a simple topic, I had, instead, encountered a veritable warehouse of information that is both complex and fraught with emotion.
A Simple Definition
I quickly found there is more than one definition of independence and each can be tailored to fit any topic, be it politics, sports or seniors. This simple truth hit home when I titled my first search: “independence defined”. I received only 238 million hits. I embarked on a second search, this time narrowing my focus to: “independence defined for seniors”. This narrowed it to a mere 15.8 million hits. (Does anyone else have a love-hate relationship with the internet?)
Later articles, I hope will show just how varied this subject is, but, for now, I am sticking with the simplest definition possible. This from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“The quality or state of not being under the control of, reliant on, or connected with someone or something else.”
MASTERY and CONTROL
The attainment of independence begins early. The first visible sign is when children master how to walk. They fall down until they can stay upright. As they grow, other skills are learned and mastered: spelling, tossing a ball, reading, doing a headstand, playing “chopsticks” on the piano. Later, there’s learning the techniques taught in organized sports, the art of time management in studying, the execution of a perfect pirouette in ballet …you get the idea. Of course, the biggest independent act for anyone is obtaining a driver’s license and going down the road unsupervised. There’s no freedom like knowing you can go anywhere, anytime in your car to any destination you choose. The next landmark for independence is getting that first big job, channeling all your efforts into the mastery and control of every aspect of your skillsets so you can be promoted and trusted with more responsibilities.
Sadly, with aging comes the eventual erosion of skills you once mastered with ease. Time is the great equalizer.
A HARSH REALITY
Growing older is a hard truth we all must accept. According to recent figures released by the World Economic Forum, the total US population is, in round numbers, greater than 325 million people. Current Census Bureau numbers state that over 50 million people in the US are age 65 or older, approximately 15%, greater than the combined population of 25 states. Furthermore, by 2030 the Census Bureau predicts the senior population will top 70 million. Today, if all US seniors were to join hands, they would wrap around the planet twice.
What, you ask, does this mean to me? Several things, but, for now, I will confine my focus to size and problems associated with an aging population. First, the graying of America is steadily increasing, outpacing an annual birth rate of only 1.5% and if the above figures are correct, and I believe they are, then the senior population will have, by 2030, grown over 37%.
Second, inherent with an aging population are a multitude of issues. You can’t ignore them. According to a 2014 Census Bureau report, nearly 40 percent of people age 65 and older have at least one disability. The most common ailment is the inability to easily walk or climb; over two-thirds of our seniors admit this is a problem. A second challenge is vision. According to the American Foundation for the Blind, over 12% of seniors have age-related vision problems including macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma. Experts predict that by 2030 this figure will double. Another issue is dementia. A University of Michigan study found that 1 in 7 adults over age 70 suffers, in varying degrees, some form of memory loss. These three challenges are not the only issues faced by older adults. There are a host of others including, heart disease, osteoporosis, obesity, and mental health, to name just a few.
After reading the last section you may be cringing, but It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a multitude of age-related problems, but with the help of modern medicine, technology and common-sense, seniors are able to thrive. Many are physically active and mentally alert, participating in a host of challenging and fun activities.
But how do you respond? Whether you are a senior, adult child of senior parents, caregiver or interested party, you can learn and recognize what the various challenges are and look for innovative ways to adopt new coping mechanisms.
I will be delivering regular weekly features on this subject, exploring topics like mobility, living alone, getting around better in the kitchen and adapting to these changes. I will also write on fun things to do be it a cruise or a trip to the local museum.