Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Don’t Be a Boy Scout: Preserving the Independence of Older Adults

Photo by Born1945

We have a few stereotypes about the relationship between older adults and the younger generations. Witness the worn-out image of the boy scout, aiding a mature woman as she crosses the street. Remember Russell in the Pixar 2009 film Up? He first met the widower Carl by asking him, “Are you in need any assistance?”

Yes, the younger generations should provide support for the oldest adults in our communities. However, they should do so in a way that recognizes existing capabilities and preserves independence. Over time, Russell and Carl develop a mutually benefitting relationship because they help each other and respect each others' strengths.

Most older adults don’t fight evil geniuses in South American jungles, but they do have a variety of skills and abilities. These strengths and their hard-won wisdom allow them to meet their own needs and to contribute to the broader society. What they most often need from others is just patience, an open mind, and maybe a few resources.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Spirituality and Older Adults: Ask, Don’t Tell

Photo by Chineka
Because older adults often have to manage a number of losses as they age, they have the challenge and opportunity to turn to religion and to spirituality as methods for managing these losses.

Rates of depression among older adults are higher than many other age groups for this reason. At any age, a person would struggle with job loss, death of a spouse, or health troubles. But for the older adult, these types of losses often come in rapid succession, making it more difficult to manage.

However, older adults are not without resources. Some have well maintained support networks through family members and friends. Others have great self-awareness for what types of activities work as mood lifters, such as exercise or participating in hobbies, volunteer work or even paid work if they still have some type of employment. Many also have long-standing relationships with a community of faith and with practices that increase their spirituality.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Claiming Social Security Before 67 Costs Money

Image by DonkeyHotey
You may not know that participants can access Social Security benefits at age 62. About 40% of older Americans actually do claim benefits early. However, they do so at a reduced rate. The rate of reduction depends on these variables: Did the benefactor start claiming benefits just three years before full retirement age (when full retirement age was 65)? Or is their rate now based on as much as five years early (now that full retirement age is moving to 67)? Is the benefactor claiming on his or her own work history or on a spouse’s?

The percentage of reduction can amount to 25% or more. This reduction stays in effect even after beneficiaries reach full retirement age. If people end up living into their 80s and 90s, they will lose a substantial amount of money over time.  If you started claiming benefits early within the last 12 months, you do have the option to stop and repay.  (On a related note, beneficiaries can enjoy an increase in benefits if they wait until age 70 to start claiming.)

These age limits are subject to change. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has worked up the numbers for increasing the benefit age from 65 to 67 for Medicare, for increasing full retirement age from 67 to 70, and for increasing the early eligibility age from 62 to 65. These very hypothetical increases are aimed at decreasing government spending while also encouraging older adults to stay in the workforce longer, generating taxes for these programs.

Even if Congress uses this information from the CBO to make policy changes, it will take time to move yet-to-be-proposed bills through the committee structures. And even if a bill on this topic is passed into law, it will take more time to be put into effect. The CBO report suggests effective dates in the 2030s. But the very fact that this report exists shows that more increases to age requirements are possible, and that today’s work force should not assume that Medicare and Social Security will be in place at the age limits currently in effect.

For related information, see the following posts:

Full SS at 65 No More
Social Security Fixes: Increase Taxes or Cut Benefits?
Don't Retire, Retrain: Decreasing the Dependency Ratio
Easing into Retirement

Thursday, January 19, 2012

May-December Romance: Why Is This Joke Funny?

Photo by sasastro 
I was standing in line at the university bookstore, waiting to pay for my textbooks when I saw a card on display that conveyed this joke:

A wealthy man in his 70s brought a beautiful twenty-something blonde to lunch at his country club. His golf buddies were duly impressed and asked him,

“How did you land such a young, gorgeous girlfriend?”

He replied, “She’s not my girlfriend. She’s my wife.”

“Wow! How did you manage that?”

“Easy. I lied to her about my age.”

“So did you tell her that you were 50?”

“No, I told her that I was 90.”

Yes, I did laugh when I read that, but then I started to unpack the source of my laughter. What does this joke say about the assumptions we hold about marriages between older men and younger women?

See Also: Movies about Love and Sex for People 50+

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Full SS Benefits at 65 No More

Photo by peasap
Many younger adults equate 65 with the age in which older adults move into retirement with full benefits. The concept of retirement is actually just a recent phenomenon. Most Americans living in the 1600s, 1700s, 1800s and for first half of the 1900s worked until their health failed them. The idea of retiring and enjoying a decade or more of leisure was a concept adopted in the mid-to-late 20th Century.

Today, older adults in the U.S. are not retiring at 65 at the high rates that they did in the 1980s and 1990s for economic, health and social reasons too complex to discuss fully in this blog post. Just to gesture quickly at some of the issues, the stereotype of retirement at 65 primarily applied to white men from the middle to upper classes. Women, minorities, members of the working class and especially those in the underclass did not have access to the pensions that allowed cushy retirement at 65. The reality is that many older adults then and now work beyond 65 and when they can no longer work, they experience fairly high rates of poverty.

Leaving behind these complexities for now, here are two policies that have increased the average age of retirement: 1) In 1986 Congress passed an amendment to the Age Discrimination Employment Act, making age-based mandatory retirements illegal. 2) Currently, Social Security is in the process of increasing the age for receiving full benefits from age 65 to age 67. Instead of changing the policy overnight, the limits are being raised slowly to allow beneficiaries some time to adjust.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Films About Aging A-F

Photo by http://flic.kr/p/bqaHPT
Let's go to the movies! This list features films that contain salient images of people in late midlife and beyond. Please fill free to suggest titles or themes in a comment below.

Last update was Olive Kitteridge (2014), HBO mini-series (2014) Lady in the Van (2015), reviewed in November of 2017. 

The full list is getting unwieldy with  206 films viewed/summarized, so I split the post: A-F here, G-N in a second post and O-Z in third. 

I'm also grouping some films together by themes within shorter, more focused posts:
If you want to see what films are on my list of those YET to be viewed, check out this post that lists another 100+ titles.  I hope to add them to the list below at the pace of one a week. 

The List A-F

5 Flights Up (2015). Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman star as a couple married for 40 years who are contemplating moving out of their walk-up apartment and into a building with an elevator.  They review key scenes from their long-time marriage during the process. 

56 Up (2013). This is the most recent in a series of 8 documentaries about the same set of people from England, filmed every 7 years since they were 7 years old.  In this film, the film subjects talk about their children launching and having grandchildren. There are numerous clips of each person from previous films, showing age-related changes to attitudes, behaviors and appearance. 

About Schmidt (2002).  Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, who finds at 66 years old that he is unsure of his place in the world. With a comedic tone, this movie asks some serious questions about how people find purpose during late adulthood as Schmidt reviews his life on the eve of his only child's wedding. 

Advanced Style (2014). Photographer and blogger Ari Seth Cohen photographs New York women ages 60 plus who show great style for fashion.  This documentary features a half dozen or these women--their outfits, their biographies and their perspective on life.  Full Review

(#5)  Age of Champions (2011). This documentary follows a handful of mature athletes as they train and compete at the Senior Games.  We meet brothers who swim at 88 and 90, a 100 year old tennis player, a team of women basketball players aged 65 plus, and a pair of men in their late 80s competing against each other in shotput, javelin and discus. 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Senior Discount: A Matter of Fashion?

Photo by dharma

I like to believe that appearances do not matter to me. Nevertheless, I can remember the first time a store employee called me, “Ma’am.” I was only in my late twenties when a teenage bag boy said, “Would you like me to take these bags to your car, Ma’am.” What a brat.

I also remember the first time I took my daughter out of the house at one week old. The middle-aged cashier at the grocery store remarked, “That baby is very young. The mother probably only let you take that baby out because you are the grandmother, right?” Um, no. I was her 39-year-old mother. I cried all the way home.

However, these moments were eclipsed the day that my mother-in-law and I took my two children to a soup and salad buffet, and the twenty-something hostess offered us both the senior discount. This happened the summer of 2011. I wasn’t going to qualify for their discount (age 60+) for eleven more years, but it was a huge wake up call for me. This time I didn’t cry. Fueled with adrenalin, I went shopping.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Quick-and-Dirty Medicare Basics

Image by Double--M

With the number of articles decrying the expense of Medicare, many people assume that this government program will cover the majority of medical expenses for retirees. This is not true. Older adults have a number of expenses they must cover in order to have adequate health care.

I hesitate to address health costs at all since there are so many variables, programs, and exceptions. Nevertheless, my short time as a volunteer Medicare counselor (six months and counting) has helped me learn a few basics, so let me share them. Again, this is very general information that only serves as a starting point.

Medicare Part A coverage (hospital insurance) is usually provided for free if you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes while working. There are some exceptions which require individuals to pay for Part A (roughly $450 a month), which you can read about online at http://www.medicare.gov/. Even if you have earned Part A coverage, there are co-pays, limits to the number of days Medicare will pay for hospital stays, and some treatments not covered at all.

Many people start Medicare Part B coverage (medical insurance) once they retire and leave their employer's medical insurance. Part B monthly premiums are usually deducted from your Social Security benefits check. Most members of the middle class will have a monthly premium near $100. There are penalties if you do not sign up on time, so start researching this well before you turn 65.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Is It Dementia or Delirium?

Photo by Susan NYC
When I first started interacting with older adults with greater frequency, I was conflating a number of terms: senility, cognitive slowing, confusion, dementia, and Alzheimer’s are not interchangeable phenomena. Senility is a dated term employed before contemporary medicine was able to diagnose more specific forms of cognitive changes.

Senility is a general term, one that lumps too many situations into one group. Using the label “senility” limits the observers’ understanding of the affected person’s limitations, capabilities and needs. Therefore, “senility” is a harmful term.

[Note: The purpose of this post is to raise awareness not to offer medical advice. If you have a concern about your health or the health of a loved one, please see a licensed medical professional.]

Cognitive slowing is a natural, age-related process. Everyone who ages will need more time and fewer distractions to perform various mental functions. If a person temporarily forgets the name of the lead actor in Gone with the Wind, this does not mean that person has Alzheimer’s Disease. In my 30s, I used to give three hour lectures in college literature courses without using lecture notes. Now I need to review names, dates and places that I used to recall immediately. This is especially true if I feel stress, if I am tired, or if I have distractions competing for my attention. Age-related cognitive changes include a degree of short-term memory problems, problems with word retrieval, word substitutions and slowing of executive planning and working memory.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Generational Perspective: Why This Blog?

Photo by indigo_mint
I lived in a generational ghetto for decades. From 18 to 48, most of my time was spent with young adults.

I was either a college student or a college instructor for those thirty years. When I wasn’t working with young adults, I was socializing with them because I was single until age 34 and without children until 36. I also primarily attended singles congregations or student congregations during these years.

And because I moved all over the country to pursue my education and my career, I was uprooted from my extended family. Consequently, I only had limited interactions with my grandparents during the last decade of their lives. From my perspective, the growth and development of young adults was paramount.