Who is a Senior?

(May 20th, 2015)

Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly
 supports low income seniors. This raises a few important question for me. Who is a senior? How many of them are there? What does it look like to be a senior in the US today? What kind of help do they need? Is it contagious? Not knowing the answers to any of these questions I did what any normal person does and used Google to go to Wikipedia. Unfortunately, I wasn't overly impressed by what I read there. For instance, did you know that "senior citizen" is an euphemism for an old person? I did.

From An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States
I'm hoping that we can learn answers to these questions (and many better ones) together. I'm going to be doing some research as I train for the marathon. While stretching my legs I'll be reading a bit of the primary literature. Just like scientists who study biology, there are people who do research on issues surrounding Seniors. They publish in journals (primary literature). Other Scientists read it. It gets repeated, collected, and reviewed (secondary literature). Eventually it makes its way into the public knowledge and finally into some dusty textbook (out-of-date literature) assigned to, and strenuously avoided by, college students.

In addition to the reading I'm going to try to get some hands on knowledge. I have a planned trip to Chicago to see H.O.M.E. I'll meet with the director, get a tour of some of their facility and hopefully meet some of their clients. In addition, I'm making a list of groups that work with Seniors right here in NYC. I'm hoping I can volunteer with a couple of them to get an idea for the variety of services that are provided. Lastly I'm going to defer to the experts. In my time I've met a couple of researchers who specialize in public health of the elderly. I'm really hoping I can sweet talk them into an interview or even a guest blog. So cross your fingers. This could get really good.

In the mean time you are stuck with me. So lets get cracking.

Stumbling around www.census.gov I found some interesting statistics and predictions on our aging population. In An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States the authors (Jennifer M. Ortman, Victoria A. Velkoff, and Howard Hogan) investigate the changes that are coming to the US population due to aging. In short, we are about to get a lot older.

Population 65 and Older as Percent of total population
From An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States
In an answer to my first question, "who is a senior?" It is generally accepted that anyone 65 years of age, or older, is a senior. Additionally, that cohort is often divided further by splitting off the even older group of 85 years and up. In the above mentioned analysis they look at the population of these two groups and give predictions of their populations in 15 years (2030) and 35 years (2050). I'll be a senior in 2050! In the predictions they even take into account our slightly better relationship with tobacco (a life expectancy reducer) and are slightly worse relationship with obesity (also a life expectancy reducer).

From An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States
In this analysis they don't measure or discuss specific issues that face seniors, but they do brush up on one aspect of senior care, cost. They look at a measure of dependency. We are used to thinking about dependents being children. Children are the worst. They constantly need to eat. They always need new clothes and they never work. They depend on a parent or two in the work force. Just terrible. But in many ways, Seniors can become more dependent again as they age. Unless you are very fortunate to have made plenty of money during your working years, to have saved and planned incredibly well for retirement, to avoid any outrageous medical bills, and to not live longer than average, then you could see yourself becoming more and more financially dependent as you age. In 2050 it is predicted that "dependency of Seniors" (the number of seniors/the number of people in the work force) will match the dependency of children under 18 years of age. This will pose some serious challenges.

Going forward we will need creative, innovative and caring ways to provide seniors with independence and support. I know this isn't the most sexy of problems. It doesn't even pass as cute like caring for puppies or penguins. But maybe that is because we are forgetting who seniors are. Seniors are people over 65. But that is not the whole story. Seniors are our parents. Seniors are our aunts and uncles. Seniors are our grandparents. They are our friends and neighbors. They are the people that loved us when we were young and annoying. They fed us and read to us and picked us up from school. They are the ones with stories and memories of a world that is disappearing. They are our link to the past. They are the link to ourselves. They are individuals with hopes and dreams. And believe it or not, they are us one day, if we are lucky! So let's get cracking. And while your at it, Donate to H.O.M.E!

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