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December 12, 2017
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Spotlight on Seniors

Julie Ann Soukoulis
Understanding the issues facing today’s seniors
December 1, 2017

When final years are in sight

Seniors are no longer gazing forward towards rose-lined dreams. They have accepted the sober fact that life has been lived, kids raised and the family homestead either developed and padded, or given up on already. 

Aging seniors are planning ahead. No longer interested in accumulating wealth or planning for retirement lifestyles - they are already in senior retirement communities - and at this point the interest is in preserving what assets are left and passing them to the next generation. 

Today’s seniors are concerned about reducing debt and maintaining adequate income. Concerns are about the need for long term care - as well as the interaction of family members in helping to provide that care. 

Seniors are also concerned about proper legal documents for the final years and for preparations for the end-of-life such as the palliative care death process, funerals and burials.

The final years means facing important decisions

Most retired individuals 65 and older are referred to as seniors.

As Americans continue to live longer, becoming a senior at age 65 is no longer considered a major watershed.

People continue to work beyond age 65 because they can. Anyone who is healthy and productive doesn’t always want to spend the rest of their lives watching television at home or playing golf or traveling. 

Eventually the aging process catches up with all of us. With care and preparation many of us can remain healthy and productive well into our 80s and 90s.

Unfortunately, people often fail to prepare for what we call the final years. In the years prior to death people are struggling to keep their heads above water both physically and sometimes financially. 

Health care costs keep rising, savings are being depleted and income isn’t keeping pace with inflation. Generally, a crisis such as a fall, or the inability to pay for services like medical care, hospitalization or sudden illness results in action being taken. If assets are already depleted, and interventions have not been pursued - then the family is not ready to accept responsibility for oversight and care.

With advanced age, savings and investments run out

Many folks start their senior years with a significant amount of savings and investments and others not so much.

Because people are living longer, they can outlive their savings and investments. Along the way to 85 or 90, a number of expenditures are likely to have eaten into savings and investments.

It’s not always withdrawals to create extra income that deplete the accounts. There are unseen medical bills, or a major repair to the home that was not anticipated.     

Perhaps there was a divorce and a splitting of assets which is not so uncommon with senior couples today. In today’s culture and economy, we often see children coming back home and asking for financial help - because they don’t have enough money to survive. 

Due to advanced age or other issues, income is inadequate

If a senior or a senior couple is relying on investments and savings to augment income such as Social Security or pensions, and for various reasons those retirement accounts did not produce the anticipated results, you have seniors in a bind in later years because they can no longer seek employment to make up the inadequate income.

Paying back money borrowed on credit cards or through home equity loans eats into income as well. For whatever reason, banks have been particularly liberal about issuing credit cards to older individuals who may not have the capacity to service that debt. 

These types of fraudulent investments seem to be more prevalent among seniors. They can also get taken advantage of when seeking to perform simple home maintenance.

In some areas, the cost of maintaining a household due to higher utility bills, higher taxes and higher maintenance costs means problems when faced with cost of living increases on fixed Social Security income.

Failing health

Health can deteriorate over a period of time or a change in health can occur suddenly. Sudden unexpected changes in health might be a diagnosis of cancer or it might be a heart attack or a stroke or fall.

Health that has deteriorated over a period of time will eventually result in disability – the inability of the senior to care for his or her own physical needs.

This disability will then result in someone acting as a caregiver to assist in such things as dressing, bathing, toileting, ambulating, needing help with incontinence, preparing meals, answering the phone, paying bills, shopping, running errands and so on. 

As a general rule, chronic health failure over a period of time is not going to improve and will only get worse, resulting in a greater need for caregiving.

Deteriorating health for a senior – especially a senior of advanced age – will typically trigger the need for intervention and the need for making some serious decisions about living arrangements, costs, government support and family support.

Seniors are losing independence

Seniors can lose their independence simply because of advanced age and a general weakness and frailty which requires intervention and support from other people. Dementia remains the most common cause of losing independence.  

For seniors who are age 80 and above, the risk of dementia is almost 50 percent. This means that almost half of all aged seniors are experiencing some form of cognitive impairment.

Families often wait too long before intervening to assist their senior to maintain independence. Maybe this happens because the family is in denial and they are hoping it will go away.

As part of the planning process, all families should plan for the contingency of their loved ones losing their independence and should be ready to step in at the appropriate time.

Aging seniors are vulnerable to financial exploitation

As we age, we also become more vulnerable to financial exploitation.

Financial exploitation can take several forms. For example, many seniors will hire handymen or mechanics or other service providers to help them with their maintenance, repair or remodeling needs. 

Unscrupulous maintenance or repair providers sometimes take advantage of seniors by providing services that are unnecessary and more expensive.

Phone scams and Internet scams that take advantage of seniors and rob them of their savings are common.

It is crucial for family and friends to become aware of the tendency for financial exploitation and to develop a plan to protect senior loved ones from it.

 

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.