More and more baby boomers are retiring, and then finding out that their retirement income is not what they expected! Yikes! With the economy in recession, and the competition for jobs so high, they are not able to find supplemental employment in their hour of need. Perhaps one of the most important challenges for our communities is in learning how to tap into these healthy active seniors to help assist those who may require minimal support in our community. However, there are options for those who are willing to share their good health, mobility, and desire to be active although they have “retired”. The “independent elderly” population may be able to stay in their homes longer, and live happier lives if early retirees who are in good health are willing to spend some time sharing activities of daily living – for example, cooking, simple household chores like laundry, driving, for those seniors who may need assistance in performing these activities. The latest statistics find that the average assisted living resident is an 84-year-old woman, who only requires help with two to four activities! This type of person is considered to be low to moderate dependence. These folks would much prefer to live in their own homes than in an assisted living facility. Home gives them a sense of freedom, comfort, and emotional well-being to be surrounded by the things that give them pleasure and hold life-long memories.
One recently divorced woman, who did not have any retirement other than social security benefits, took just such a position. She offered companionship to those families who are presently caring for an elderly loved one who may not be able to stay alone. She comes to their home during the day, and cooks a lovely lunch for them, plays cards with them, takes them shopping if they desire, and then makes sure they have plenty of groceries in their kitchen to allow for healthy snacks in the evening when she leaves. She also will stay overnight with a loved-one while the family takes a short vacation if the loved one is unable or unwilling to travel. This gives the family peace of mind, knowing their loved one is being well taken care of in their absence and also allows the elderly senior the comfort of their loved surroundings. This is simply a win-win situation for everybody involved.
At one time, Japan was considering an insurance plan which would allow citizens in good health to look in on neighbors who were elderly and did not have family members living close enough to provide support. They would “bank” home care hours with the central bank (insurance plan) which could be used in the future either by themselves or one of their loved ones who might live too far away for them to be able to provide daily care. These banked home hours could be exchanged either for themselves in the future or now for a loved one in another location. This seemed like an excellent method to consider with our current economy forcing folks to move in order to find employment, often leaving their family members behind. Often caregivers, who are related to the elders, find themselves becoming depressed due to the role reversal they might experience of caring for their elder parents. This situation can be alleviated if the care giver is not a relative.
Many scholars state if we want to be successful in caring for our baby boomers in the future, we will have to make some changes in housing and health care. I think this is a challenge for our communities. It is only becoming more and more critical as our population ages. We should start thinking about developing communities with an emphasis on family-friendly housing, parks and schools, allowing for multigenerational activities. Elders can be key volunteers to improve the lives of a community.
The bottom line (and the intangible benefit) is that we need to recognize the “give and take” of all parts of society. Anyone who has spent time providing care for an elderly friend or relative recognizes that they receive far more than they give in the relationship. Everyone benefits when the elderly can be integrated fully into a loving and caring society.