We must deal with explosion of seniors | TheUnion.com

We must deal with explosion of seniors

Jeff Ackerman, Publisher
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

An 89-year-old woman came down to the office last week saying she was sent here by Twiddlydee and Twiddlydumb to pick up some paperwork.

She wasn’t kidding. She said the paperwork was supposed to show that she wasn’t crazy and that it would keep her son from placing her in an institution.

When she finally left, we had a good laugh at her expense. “Twiddlydee and Twiddlydumb!” we mused. “What a hoot.”

But it wasn’t funny. Not the least bit funny.

The woman’s visit came on the heels of a call from a friend who is 67 and has seen his retirement investment plan evaporate over the past year, thanks partly to greedy and crooked accounting practices by executives who will never have to worry about growing old. “It looks like I won’t be retiring any time soon,” said my friend, who has already spent 45 years in this business. “But that’s OK. My mom and dad are still alive at 95 and 96, so it looks like I’ll be around for awhile.”

Nearly 20 years ago I took some gerontology courses and remember a professor telling us that the population of people over 65 would double over the next 25 years. People would be living longer than ever, she said, and baby boomers will no longer be babies.

She was right, of course. The 76 million “boomers” really are getting older (the alternative to growing old is not good) and it’s estimated that Social Security benefits will begin exceeding tax collections in 13 years (that’s not good, either).

Unfortunately, my professor also predicted that America would not be ready for the explosion of older Americans, and America isn’t. If it was, the 89-year-old woman probably would not have been in my office last week saying she was sent by Twiddlydee and Twiddlydumb.

If you haven’t noticed, Nevada County has lots and lots of older citizens. In fact, we have more of them per capita than most places in the country.

And while some of them are doing pretty well for themselves – hence their ability to buy a home where average home prices have reached $289,000 – many are barely getting by.

“There are more seniors in the area who are hanging on by a shred than we even know,” said Betty Worth, executive director of the Senior Foundation of Western Nevada County. “Most of the seniors in need are those who grew up here and retired from low income jobs. Many of the seniors who are newcomers are the ones who are inflating the buying power and the cost of living.”

The state’s budget woes have already impacted local senior programs. The Nevada County Board of Supervisors recently provided emergency money for the Meals on Wheels program that had seen its funding cut off, pending approval of the state budget.

That means 200 shut-in seniors will continue to eat. At least Monday through Friday.

The Meals on Wheels program is also funded in part by private sponsors and by donations from the shut-in seniors who are served. “We can’t require them to pay for the meals (which cost around $5 each, including packaging, delivery, etc.), so we ask for a donation,” said Worth. “A year ago the average donation was $2, but today it’s around $1.75. That’s why we need more volunteers to adopt a shut-in senior.”

Each contribution is matched to a specific senior and 100 percent of the money goes to the food, packaging and delivery.

I’m no mental health expert, but I’d guess you start to “lose it” when you no longer feel you’re part of anything or anyone. Your children are grown and are busy with their own lives. Your old friends start to pass on and you check the newspaper each day to see if you recognize any names on the obituary page. You begin to question the point of getting up each morning, except to show you still can.

Socialization is vital, which is why places such as the county’s senior center are so important to so many people. Sometime down the road they’ll be looking to build a new community center here. The current one is too small to serve the numbers it needs to serve.

They’ll probably find some grant money, but it’s a safe bet that a good chunk of the several-million-dollar cost will eventually need to come from contributions.

If and when that happens, I hope we can step up to the plate.

If not, we’ll only see more and more lonely and confused older Americans wandering the streets, looking for something they lost along the road of life.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299, jeffa@theunion.com, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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