As I prepare to embark on a pretty significant career change in this rather late stage in my life, I feel compelled to share some of what I’ve learned while working with and for the senior citizen population of Richland County over the last 15 years. According to my blog analytics, I have readers as far from Richland County as India, Germany, Taiwan, Belgium, Malta, and Canada, to name just a few. However, I am sure these same issues can be applicable far and wide. Some of this information may shock you, some may break your heart, as it has mine time and again. However it impacts you, I hope you will allow it to color your future thoughts and actions, especially as we enter this Thanksgiving week, where we give thanks for all we have.
You may not be aware of the fact that there are many seniors in our area who have a NET monthly income of $500 or less. Think about that…..now go back and think on it some more. Think of all the many things you have to pay for each month. First on that list is usually a mortgage or rent. How many of you have a mortgage or rent payment less than $500? If you do, count yourself pretty fortunate. Most do not. Most people, even in meager accommodations, have a payment much more than that. Now add in your utilities….you can’t go without heat, water, or electricity. Although, I will tell you for a fact that there are some who are doing just that. I’ve been in such a home where there hadn’t been any running water for 20+ years. Think about the implications of no running water in a home that is designed for running water. No water to bathe, wash your clothes, flush your toilet, wash your hands after you use the bathroom, wash your produce. This is real. There are folks who, when something big breaks, that’s it….they have no way to get it fixed or replaced. Period. The generation that is currently in their late 70’s and older are less likely to complain or ask for help and may even go to lengths to conceal their degree of poverty and need. In many cases, it only takes 1 unfortunate incident in someone’s life to be the turning point between things going along ok and things going downhill rapidly leading to poverty, depression and despair.
I could give you hundreds of examples of just that…..people whose lives were ok up until they fell unexpectedly or their water well failed or they lost their job through no fault of their own, or their only child or spouse died….the list is endless. These events then naturally lead to others and then others, with each step after that worse than the previous one, until a person may find themselves in a “hole” that they cannot dig themselves out of. When this happens to many seniors, they have an especially rough time because now they usually have physical limitations and health problems that cost money and that prevent them from going out and getting a job to help pull them back out of that ‘hole’.
Next, let’s talk about your monthly food budget. If you’re having to use all your monthly check on a place to live, how are you affording any food….or toothpaste, soap, deoderant, laundry soap, etc. etc. not to mention medications! I can’t tell you how many seniors I’ve known over the years who are literally having to choose between their medications and keeping food in their bellies. People who are existing on the cheap loaves of white, nutrition-less bread from a bakery thrift store and a jar of peanut butter every month…maybe some packets of ramen noodles thrown in too……seriously. And we wonder why there is a need for so many medications and healthcare as people get older.
What about seniors and their pets? It is a known fact that our pets are vitally important to our general mental health and welfare….but especially so to folks who may have very few people in their lives for one reason or another. How do they feed those dear pets? How do they get them medical attention when needed? Have you priced pet food lately? I can tell you that my 2 cats cost me an average of $40 a month for food and litter and that does NOT include any medical care. How does that figure into a $500 a month budget? And yet, I’ve seen countless seniors who would die before they gave up their dear furry companions….and understandably so. I can also tell you I’ve seen heartrending situations of pets living with deplorable ailments and in horrific conditions because their senior owners could not afford otherwise.
How about a car payment? Where on earth would that fit into this financial nightmare of a scenario?! Well, quite frankly, it usually doesn’t, and many seniors are therefore without any transportation to doctor appointments, grocery shopping, church, visiting friends and family and just for general independence. Those who are lucky enough to still have a car often have no way to pay for any repairs or maintenance, let alone gasoline. What about ‘public transportation’ you say? Well, I say you go try to stand in the freezing cold waiting on a bus and then get up into the bus with a walker and even just 1 bag of groceries when your body is stiff and wracked with the pain of arthritis or other infirmities. Not to mention that buses are not available 24/7 and don’t even figure into the lives of those seniors living out in the country. There are so many things we take for granted every day that it’s hard to even wrap our minds around how this can be happening here and now in 2021.
So, let’s start at the beginning of one type of entry into this vicious cycle and take a closer look. What are 2 of the main things that seem to fall apart as we get older….not for everyone, of course, but for MANY? If you said your teeth and your hearing, you would be correct! What are the 2 things that Medicare….the insurance for SENIOR CITIZENS….. does NOT pay for……dentures and hearing aides. A full set of dentures could run anywhere from about $1000 to $15,000, depending on their quality and where you live. Hearing aids will run from about $1600 to $8000 with the average around $4700. That, however, doesn’t even include the ongoing enormous cost of batteries that have to be replaced very regularly. Now how do you suppose someone with a net monthly income of $500 or less is going to come up with the money for either one of those? What happens when you don’t have teeth? For starters, you can only eat things that don’t require much or any chewing. What kinds of foods don’t require much chewing? Soft white bread, pudding, mashed potatoes, soup, foods that are highly processed, salted and extremely lacking in any nutritional value. What causes high blood pressure, obesity, chronic constipation and a myriad of other health issues that seniors especially suffer from……eating these kinds of worthless, highly processed, cheap, sodium filled foods. What kinds of foods can you NOT eat without teeth? Fresh vegetables, lean meats, and all the higher fiber foods we know to be necessary for maintaining good health.
How about your hearing. You may say that’s really not all that bad when it starts to go…..but, let me show you how wrong you would be. When people start missing pieces and parts of conversations because they can no longer hear, a couple things start to happen. First off, people around them get annoyed at having to repeat things over and over and annoyed that the person is turning up the volume on the TV or radio. This creates tension and issues in relationships. People start to avoid the person with the hearing deficit. When the person with the hearing issue starts to notice more and more that they are missing things, they start to pull away and become less involved because they know they can’t keep up and feel frustrated or embarrassed. This can lead to more and more isolation away from interactions with other people…..from both sides. What happens when people become more and more isolated? They run a much higher chance of developing depression and Alzheimer’s disease/dementia. You can probably now see how little it takes for 1 issue to spiral down quite quickly.
Speaking of isolation amongst seniors, that is a whole other can of worms. If I had the power to send a message to all corners of this planet…..oh…., I guess I do…it’s called the Internet….here is one thing I would like to say LOUD AND CLEAR……..People…..go see your parents!!! Call them, talk to them, send them letters, take their grandkids there to get to know them….spend time with them. DO NOT let them just fade away into the sunset, dying of loneliness and a broken heart!!!! I can’t stress this enough….there are thousands of seniors who hardly ever hear from their adult children or grandchildren and it is literally slowly killing them!! Oh they may not admit it or ask you to keep in contact with them because of their fear of rejection and the pain of you not following through. I don’t care what they may have said in the past to make you mad or how much they annoy you or that you think you don’t have the time to give them any of yourself. Quit being so self-centered and thoughtless. No, parents are NOT perfect, and yes, I’m sure they made mistakes as you were growing up….but so have you. Do not let them die thinking you couldn’t care less about them. They raised you, they provided for you the best they knew how. Yes, maybe they parented you the way they were parented…and maybe that was NOT a good thing. Are you aware of the concept of “forgiveness”? When you mess up…….and, if you haven’t yet, you will…..don’t you really hope that the people who mean the most to you will forgive you and continue to love you and include you in their lives? Jesus Christ forgave each and every one of us, for all our sins….past, present and future…..he died an excruciatingly painful death on a cross for us. Yes, you too….whoever you are….wherever you’re reading this. Therefore, He requires that we, in turn, forgive each other….of everything….if we want to have a proper relationship with Him. This means you need to forgive your parents if you’ve shut them out for some reason. Take the steps you need to take to extend the “olive branch” of peace towards them. I can’t tell you how many seniors have talked to me on the verge of tears about how they almost never hear from their families and have no one to help them …or no one who is willing to help them. I have seen enough pain and loneliness in the eyes of a senior to last a lifetime and could talk heatedly about this for days. I think you get the point. Seniors need other people……more than ever before. Many times, though, the other folks need to reach out first because of pride and the fear of rejection. Feeling rejected by your own child is an almost indescribable pain that once felt, a person will go to great lengths to never feel again…..no matter what. Don’t live YOUR senior years full of regrets because you didn’t look after your parents. As our “Operating Manual” states…….”…….honor your father and mother, so that it may go well with you and so you will live long……” Ephesians 6:1 – 4.
With so much emphasis in this country on children and youth, I get very frustrated with the way senior citizens and their many needs and concerns are just conveniently swept under the rug without much of a second thought. Line items pertaining to the issues of seniors are cut from budgets, denoting their very low priority to those making powerful decisions. I very often think that if those in ‘high places’ could see what I’ve seen, they would make different choices and realize the importance of revering and looking after our elders.
These issues, like most, start in our own homes and in our own families. I think we all need to grow up and step up to the plate in regards to looking out for and making sure that the needs of our parents and the other seniors in our lives are taken care of. After all…..we will ALL walk into those same shoes at some point ourselves…God willing. I guarantee we will all wish we had modeled an example to our own children of actively caring for our parents and the other elders in our lives. Think about it.