COLUMN: Point Counterpoint: With aging population, home care a solution | Columns

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Does it seem to you there are a lot of old folks around? Well, it’s not your imagination. There are more seniors among us now than there ever have been, and that is not going to change.

The rate of growth of this age bracket is expected to continue so that by 2034, there will be more seniors than youth under 18. As recently as 2016, the numbers were much different, with around 49 million seniors, compared to around 74 million under 18. By 2060, it is expected there will be nearly 95 million 65 and older Americans, compared to 80 million under 18.

So, what’s the big deal? Lots of grandmas and grandpas around; over the river and through the woods, we sing a happy song going to grandma’s house. That image conjures up a happy, healthy, and robust grandma with rosy cheeks who is able to bake a turkey and an apple pie while grandpa milks the cows and does his chores. However, that is not the reality for most seniors who live in cities and may live alone. Plus, our economic model is based on a larger pool of working folks than seniors. Social Security is a major part of many seniors’ income; depending on whom you believe, it ranges from 20%-40% receive most of their income from Social Security.

So, if the numbers of seniors are going up, and the number of those working and paying for the benefits is going down, how is this going to work? It is, indeed, a vexing question. Part of the solution may be the concept of “aging in place.” The success of that idea will depend to a great extent on the actions of seniors to do all they can to stay able to do a large part of their self-care. That is, they need to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.

Of course, one of the biggest impediments to that outcome is dementia, for which no one seems to be able to find the cause and there is, so far, no successful treatment or prevention, so that is a big monkey wrench. So, that one in seven people over 70 who has dementia will not be a good candidate for aging in place. Not surprisingly, though, 90% of seniors want to stay at home. For those seniors to achieve their goals, they must develop strategies for doing so, and that means we can all pitch in and start to help them do so.

A first step is education. Too often, seniors are the last group we think of when we consider education. The focus is generally on youth, and the education we do provide is too often focused on medication and pills to take to cure this ill or that. We don’t think of those ads that run during the evening news or a few other shows as education, but they are targeted at seniors for a reason. They do show seniors living a happy and active lifestyle, but they have it backward. Seniors need to – in fact, must – adopt an active lifestyle to remain healthy and in their homes.

The Northwest Primary Care blog lists 10 reasons to stay active: 1. Fitness improves senior health; 2. Exercise helps with managing body weight; 3. Working out increases bone health and strength; 4. Staying active promotes heart and cardiovascular health; 5. Exercise builds positive mental health; and 6. Building strength prevents falls.

So, if we consider that nursing home care is about double in-home care, we would be well advised to do all we can to keep folks at home. We can’t afford not to.

Robert Lee is a retired social worker with interests in history and politics. He lives in Tahlequah.

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