One thing I've always enjoyed about my job is I'm usually treated like a kid. When I'm talking to seniors, I love being the young one. Early in my career I didn't appreciate it as much, but now I love the wonderful advice I receive. I've been told I need not worry about my daughter getting a job after college, moving too far away or even her new puppy. They know I'll make it through one more round of hunting seasons, if unwanted critters get into the house I won't die, and I will eventually have wonderful grandchildren and the time to enjoy them. There's nothing like visiting with seniors to put your life back into perspective.
Some advice I'm hearing is a bit more serious. When talking about today's economy, seniors are much more cautious that I want to be. Low interest rates, fixed incomes, past hardships influence how they react to current conditions. Even though I want to say "things are looking up," these folks who have lived through the depression are not ready to say things will be OK. This generation is a very cautious generation. They know how ugly it can get.
Our seniors have a right to be cautious, however evidence is mounting that seniors may be cutting everyday expenses because of the economic downturn. Families need to be on alert to make sure they aren't cutting too deeply. Warning signs include skipping medications, pulling the plug on air conditioning or heating and canceling social outings.
A recent report released by AARP titled "The Economic Slowdown's Impact on Middle-Aged and Older Americans," 59 percent of seniors 65 and older surveyed said they'd found it more difficult to pay for essential items like food, gas and medicine. Nearly half (47 percent) said they found it more difficult to pay for utilities such as heating, cooling or phone service. Forty-six percent have reduced the number of times they eat out and 45 percent cut back spending on entertainment.
Cuts of essential items such as food and medication should be of immediate concern to seniors' families. Less obvious issues such as senior isolation should also be a concern. Isolation may be magnified during this troubled time in our economy with the high price of gas.
An older adult can get in trouble very quickly, especially when families live a distance from their loved ones. When boomer children are busy trying to make ends meet themselves, it's so important that someone look out for the well-being of seniors. You want to know they are safe in their homes and eating properly, taking their medications and able to maintain their appointments and social life.
It's important also for seniors to guard against fraud and too-good-to-be-true offers. Seniors want to get the best that they can from their investments without falling for scams or overselling tactics. Older adults also should beware of CDs and fixed annuities that can promise higher interest rates, but force seniors to lock in their money for longer time periods. Always get advice from a financial advisor and it never hurts to get a second opinion.
Seniors at all income levels may be facing choices they haven't had to make in the past. They should know where to go for help before they put themselves or their health at risk. Area Agencies on Aging, for instance, offer both food and gas assistance. Companies can provide transportation assistance and help around the home and serve as a second set of eyes for seniors' families.
Families also can play an important role monitoring seniors who have decided to scale back because of the economy. Even seemingly innocent decisions, like cutting back a little on groceries or heat, can have a damaging impact.
So what signs should families look for to warn them that a senior might be putting themselves in harm's way?
Here's some information from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. If you're a family caregiver, ask yourself the following questions.
1. Is your senior's home too warm in the summer and too cold in the winter?
2. Is the lawn not getting mowed nor is the sidewalk getting cleaned in inclement weather?
3. Is your loved one complaining about not being able to afford medications?
4. Are home repairs not getting made?
5. Is there a shortage of food in the house?
6. Is your senior skipping doctor's appointments?
7. Is your older adult staying home more and becoming isolated?
8. Is your senior cutting out entertainment?
9. Does your loved one eat out less?
10. Did your senior cancel a vacation?
So, a little advice from "the young one?" Seniors concerned about the economy, don't cut back too far on those essential items. Ask for help if you need help. My generation needs you to be safe and healthy. There are many things you haven't shared with me yet, and I need your advice! (By the way, how do you feel about the Twin's chances to get into the Series?)
DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.