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May 20, 2009 > Elderly stage of life may be longest act

Elderly stage of life may be longest act

Submitted By Rachael Vander Martin

The word "stage" can refer to a raised platform on which an actor performs or a period of time where steps in a process take place. As we move through life, the stages we find ourselves on or at play an important role in shaping our behavior and choices. Most of the early stages of life we look forward to; graduating from high school, getting our first job, getting married, having a child. Others, like getting old, we tend avoid and view negatively. Like death, aging is a stage that simply comes whether we want it to or not.

When life expectancy was lower, and we did not have the medical capacities we have now, people didn't give much thought to the stage we now refer to as elderly. Old people simply died when their bodies gave out and we respectfully mourned their passing. While this still happens for some, the majority of us are seeing the elderly stage of life changing into something quite different.

With white women in the United State now living to an average age of 81, and with more and more people of both sexes living well into their 90's, our elderly stage may soon become the longest one we find ourselves living in. And, seen in the context of our youth-obsessed culture, this new reality poses serious social, psychological and economic challenges - for all of us.

During the past few decades, governments around the world have been addressing difficult social problems by throwing money at them. Given the current state of economic affairs and the rising number of elderly citizens, this solution seems unlikely to continue. And, even if private industry takes over some of these functions the money still needs to come from somewhere. Those who are already elderly (or taking care of elderly loved ones) see the money coming out of their savings and retirement accounts. Or they are borrowing money from credit cards, home equity and friends; "Borrowing from Peter to pay Paul," as the old saying goes.

It's time to acknowledge that these stopgap measures are not going to work. Living longer is not a temporary stage from which things are going to go back to normal. The fastest growing age group in many parts of the world is made up of people 85 years old and older. If you consider 55 as the average age a person is considered old along with trends that indicate a not too distant life expectancy of 100, then some of us may be facing the prospect of being old for almost half our life.

President Obama recently proclaimed the month of May as Older Americans Month. In his proclamation address he reminded us that, "we owe older Americans a debt of gratitude and must work to help them age with dignity. Through home- and community-based services, including health promotion and preventive care programs, many older Americans are able to live more independent and healthier lives. This year's theme for Older Americans Month, Living Today for a Better Tomorrow, captures the importance of helping seniors today so they can enjoy the years ahead."

One organization in the Tri-City area that carries out this theme is LIFE ElderCare. Their four direct service programs, Meals on Wheels, Friendly Visitors, Falls Prevention and VIP Rides, are helping to provide the basics of life to frail older adults. By adhering to a vision of healthy aging and independent living, they are building a solid platform on which older Americans can continue to laugh, grow wise, and prosper. It takes a community to support healthy aging. By working together to build a better future we might just make this elderly stage of life one of the best stages we have yet to live.

Visit LIFE ElderCare at www.lifeeldercare.org.

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