by Bob Kohut
It’s no secret that the population of the Western Industrialized World is aging and the pace will accelerate as the fabled baby boomer generation slides into old age. Many adult children of baby boomers face the possibility of becoming members of the “sandwich” generation – those responsible not only for the care of their own children, but also for the care of their own parents.
In anticipation, many of those faced with a future of providing eldercare are taking steps to learn what they need to know to get ready for the time when they will need to step in and become directly involved in caring for their elders.
As more and more scientific research is done on aging many beliefs long held to be true are now being exposed as myths.
We’d like to introduce you to five categories where some previously held “truisms” are being debunked. They are:
- Taking Care of Themselves
- Living Arrangements
The image that has fed the myth that all old people inevitably get sick is that of an aging, bedridden senior in a nursing home. You’ll be pleased to know that not only are our senior citizens living longer, they are also healthier.
While there is no denying that aging slows down many bodily processes and functions, it is simply not true that serious sickness is an inevitable result of aging. Studies done by the New England Centenarian Study (NCES) at Boston Medical Center found that in over 40% of seniors who live to be 100, sickness related to old age did not begin to appear until they reached the age of 80. And a truly stunning 15% of those studied had no age related illnesses at the ripe old age of 100!
Here’s the myth: all seniors eventually turn senile if they live long enough. The fact is that senility in seniors is far from inevitable. Perhaps the recent glut of television commercials featuring advances in drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease has fed this belief. Some people confuse “senior moments” – which is nothing more than a momentary lapse of memory – with senility. The Boston Medical Center study of seniors who live to be 100 found that about 90% of those studied showed no signs of reduced mental function until well into their 90’s. Senility is not inevitable.
Some adult caregivers are shocked when a 75 year old parent who’s lost a spouse starts serious dating. Masters and Johnson put the myth of sex and seniors to rest when they found that healthy seniors are capable of having quality sexual relations well into their 80’s!
Taking Care of Themselves
It’s foolish to believe that all seniors will be capable of taking care of themselves until they die. However, it is equally foolish to believe we can predict when the time they need help caring for themselves will come. Most studies of aging find that disabilities that render seniors incapable of caring for themselves occur very late in life; usually at the end. The Boston Medical Center study found that amongst the 100 year old seniors they studied, the average age at which they could no longer care for themselves was 92!
Contrary to what many people believe, most seniors do not live in nursing homes. 1990 census data showed that 10.2% of seniors 75 years old and above lived in nursing homes at that time. By 2006, the percentage had dropped to 7.4%. Today there are simply more choices available, including senior retirement communities and assisted living centers. However, both of these options are becoming increasingly expensive. The future of living arrangements for seniors will most likely involve more and more seniors staying in their own homes longer or moving in with their adult children.
As you prepare for the day when you will need to become directly involved in caring for your elderly loved ones, it is important to separate fact from fiction. Debilitating sickness and senility are not pre-ordained outcomes for all seniors. Many can take care of themselves and live alone for far longer than you might expect. Finally, if financing senior care is a concern for you, you should consider laying the groundwork for the day you might have to have a senior loved one move in with your family.