The fastest growing population in America is that of people over 85. California is growing older too, and Sonoma Valley’s senior population is increasing faster than the state average. Housing, transportation and social services that older people require are not keeping up.
Demographically this is no surprise; the Baby Boomer generation — 75 million strong — has distorted society and the economy since its beginnings. Now that the Boomers are collecting social security, they are affecting everything, especially healthcare. Dementia rates are growing, too, a ticking time bomb for which society is woefully unprepared.
These are the most pronounced issues facing society in the decade to come, yet for many millions of seniors, including the thousands right here in Sonoma Valley, the looming issues are a challenge, right down to the littlest details.
Take technology, for example, which is changing so fast that even young people are pressed to keep up. More and more of the needs of daily life require the use of computers. From the government to the daily paper, a senior lacking tech savvy is “left out in the cold” when it comes to getting things done. And as technology has invaded communications and telephones — voice-mail, menu selections, entry of information — the situation has left seniors befuddled and vulnerable. Even television remotes are hard to operate.
Between hearing loss, vision problems, loss of manual dexterity, the inability to react quickly, and society’s reliance on technology, seniors find themselves in a position of great disadvantage. Basic transportation and physical mobility are ever-present challenges. Despite these obvious needs, even organizations that cater to seniors ignore the most basic limitations of their user base. Ever tried calling Social Security or using the AARP website? Their overly complex phone menus waste time and create frustration; website navigation is non-intuitive and user-interface confusing. For many seniors, the unfortunate solution is to just give up or call the grandchildren for help, if you can reach them.
One would imagine that in a market-based society the needs of a large demographic would dictate the offering appropriate services, but this turns out not to be the case. While millions in bond money gets spent for new soccer and playing fields for students, organizations like Vintage House must go begging for financial support. Seniors are thrifty consumers by necessity; living on fixed incomes they’re careful about spending. Accordingly, business investment in systems and services seniors need is not the money-maker it would seem.
The cold-hearted facts show that when it comes to business profit, seniors are not where the action is. The exception is for those looking to take advantage or defraud. Crime against seniors — phone scams and the like — are skyrocketing.
Thus seniors here in the Valley not only find the tasks of everyday life a challenge, but are increasingly isolated and alone as lifespans extend. There are far too few retirement facilities and those that exist are often too expensive. Moving from independent to assisted living facilities becomes progressively more difficult as health declines; the result for many is to slide into poverty, rely on Medicaid and end up in poorly-funded nursing homes.
It’s a lousy and humiliating way to end a long and often productive life.
– Sun Editorial Board