Helping the Frail Elderly to Live With Dignity
The population of older adults in this country, estimated at 40 million, is at an all-time high and growing rapidly. In fact, the number of seniors is expected to double by 2030 when the youngest of the baby boomers turn 65. National data tell us that, for the most part, today’s seniors have never had it so good. Overall, they are healthier and more educated, living longer, and experiencing greater prosperity than any prior generation. However, these broad trends mask important disparities in the economic well-being and health of the country’s elderly. Poverty among this population nationally increased from 9 percent in 2010 to 9.5 percent in 2013. Malnutrition is on the rise, as is the prevalence of diabetes. And according to a recent survey by the National Council on Aging, a substantial number of low-income seniors have significant concerns about their financial security over the next five to 10 years.
Almost 580,000 seniors age 65 and older live in the Philadelphia region, and of those approximately 193,000 reside in the city itself. About one-third of the region’s seniors are low-income, which means that they live at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level—about $22,000 or less in annual income for a single person. Another 17 percent of Philadelphia’s seniors, approximately 33,000 individuals, live at or below 100 percent of the federal poverty level, which is about $11,000 or less in annual income. Along with economic hardship, many are also socially isolated and have health and mobility challenges that compromise their independence.
Pew was founded in Philadelphia more than 65 years ago and, through the Pew Fund for Health and Human Services, supports organizations that promote a decent quality of life for the frail elderly. Pew’s assistance for this vulnerable population has four objectives:
- To assist with basic needs and strengthen financial stability. Elderly individuals often don’t understand and utilize the benefits and services available to them, a reflection of such factors as a perceived stigma about using them, lack of awareness, and the complexity of the rules governing eligibility for these resources. Nationally, only 1 in 3 eligible older adults participates in the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP; formerly called food stamps), the lowest rate among all demographic groups. Benefits Data Trust, a Pew grantee, is helping substantial numbers of low-income seniors to obtain available benefits by using an innovative data-driven marketing strategy. The agency targets thousands of individuals from federal, state, and municipal databases who are eligible for, but not yet receiving, certain benefits. This approach proactively identifies individuals in need, rather than relying on them to seek out services.
- To alleviate symptoms of depression and decrease social isolation. Too often, mental health issues are perceived by seniors and their caregivers as part of normal aging and are overlooked and left untreated. But mental health concerns and social isolation have significant implications for physical health and overall well-being. In a 2012 survey, the Public Health Management Corporation identified approximately 83,000 seniors in the region—14 percent of all those over age 65—as “at risk” of serious depression. Programs that offer a range of interventions—from peer support groups to more intensive counseling—are vital to helping seniors maintain or improve their quality of life. The Supportive Older Women’s Network is one of several agencies Pew supports that helps ease depression and social isolation for seniors in the community.
- To improve independent and secure living. The great majority of older adults want to live in their homes and communities, but many lack the necessary resources and support. Approximately 71,000 seniors in the Philadelphia region have difficulty carrying out basic self-care, such as eating or bathing, doing their grocery shopping, or getting to medical appointments. Pew grantee Visiting Nurse Association Community Services helps older adults with daily tasks and ensures a sound home environment so that more of Philadelphia’s elderly can safely “age in place.”
- To strengthen support for informal caregivers. An estimated 80 to 90 percent of the care that seniors living at home require is provided by family and close friends—many of whom have their own health and financial challenges. And, as these caregivers are called on to perform more complex nursing tasks for their loved ones, their role has intensified. To reduce the burden on family caregivers, Pew supports respite services as well as practical education and training as offered by Thomas Jefferson University’s Elder Care Dementia Service program.
Through the efforts of our partners, Pew is pleased to help strengthen the quality of life for the frail elderly and their families in the Philadelphia region. Learn more about our work here.
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