American Perceptions of Aging in the 21st Century, a 25-year study by the National Council on Aging (NCOA), examined the myths and realities of the aging experience in America.
In this study people were surveyed about how they feel and what they are doing in preparation for old age. When 65 and 70 year olds were asked if they would be happy to live another ten years, only 7 percent said they would be unhappy. Problems that seniors identified as most serious included fears regarding health, crime, money and loneliness.
When asked about their greatest worries for old age the majority of people (60 percent) ranked memory loss as their top fear. At a secondary level, more than half were “very worried or somewhat worried” about long term care costs. The least of their worries was about outliving their pension and savings. The surprise comes in learning what people viewed as most important in terms of preparations for later life. Three quarters of respondents ranked “Establishing a Living Will” and having “Savings” as their top priorities, whereas “Health Habits” and “Long Term Care Insurance” were rated significantly lower. While half of respondents said they worry that they won’t be able to afford long-term care, they rated long term care insurance as their lowest priority.
Furthermore, even in later years, a person’s health habits are what impact memory and health most. At this time, long term care insurance is the only kind of coverage that will pay for in-home care, the kind of care that enables seniors with memory loss and other chronic health problems to live independently.
The answer behind this dichotomy lies in the value seniors place on their savings compared to the value they place on themselves. Many people who are now in their 80s are used to living frugally and saving as much as possible, desiring to leave a legacy to their children, suggests Emily Saltz, Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker and the director of Elder Resources, a private geriatric care management firm in Newton, Massachusetts.
Also, for seniors to receive the care they deserve, their children need to avoid any disparity in the value they place on the life of their parents as compared with the life of their children. Most parents want only the best for their kids. (Seeking out the cheapest babysitter or the cheapest college for their son or daughter doesn’t even enter their mind). By contrast, when it comes to senior care, finding the least expensive solution sometimes becomes a family focus. Families often believe that the most cost-effective solution is the best solution.
But this should not be surprising because even trusted information sources such as Consumer Reports focus on money rather than quality of life when it comes to senior care. Take for example their Complete Guide to Health Services for Seniors – the Introduction says that the book is designed to answer all the most important questions pertaining to senior living. It turns out that half of these questions are about how to save money on senior care. The first chapter of this compendium is a virtual bible about how to cut costs when it comes to the care of your parents. It’s got sections entitle “Sticker Shock” and “Talking about Money.” The first paragraph alone mentions money 5 times.
In our current age where people live into the hundreds it doesn’t make sense to think of life in terms of thrift and low cost senior warehousing. Rather it makes sense to think about making life more productive and enjoyable. It’s a new age and it’s time for some new thinking.