By William E. Kelly | Senior Matters
We and our loved ones are living longer than expected. Few considered that any of us would live long enough to experience today’s growing financial and emotional burden of senior care.
The number of seniors needing assistance who are without family or friends willing and/or able to provide it is staggering and they are at the mercy of the rest of us. This is the reality that young and older alike will face unless we come together to create and maintain the safety nets that will always be required.
It is during these complicated times that we rely on our elected and appointed leaders to help guide us through and away from such perils. We must make sure they are aware of these issues and have ideas that will assist us meet the challenges and support their efforts with more than our verbal complaints.
In her 2014 State of the County address, Dianne Jacob, then chair of the County Board of Supervisors, said that San Diego’s elderly population was expected to surge by more than 30 percent by 2029 and that “the county is ill-equipped to handle this rapid growth [emphasis added].”
Supervisor Jacob also shared that “More than 60,000 people” in the region have Alzheimers, with that number “expected to double in the next 15 years.”
Jacob also called on the board of supervisors to “fully restore” its aging and independent services (AIS) and follow through on a special prosecution unit targeting problematic senior homes.
“As the county population turns more gray, regional problems tied to aging will turn more grave,” Jacob said.
This was four years ago.
Among the serious questions that constituents of the San Diego County Board of Supervisors need to ask of any of the current candidates — particularly the District 4 candidates running in the June 2018 primary to fill Ron Roberts’ seat — is “How aware are they of the unfolding aging crisis and the negative impacts it presents; where on their priority lists does it rank; and what reasonable steps/solutions do they propose?” I will share some of these in upcoming columns.
Reality Check: More than a decade of professional demographic studies and surveys have produced advisory reports consistently warning of this crisis. A great majority of our retirement-age county residents who once believed they were financially secure enough to age-in-place, only to discover they are not. Some have families able and willing to help out but more do not and current social safety nets are failing to meet the rapidly expanding needs. The challenge falls on the younger generation in an era when they themselves are struggling to care for their own lives and families and prepare for their retirement years.
Result: Dangerously few of the personal assets and income streams of older — and even younger — generations are keeping pace with the costs. Meanwhile, government efforts to cut back or eliminate the safety nets designed to supplement retirement income are threatening widespread economic and societal disaster.
Today, 1 out of 5 seniors live in poverty. Of homeless San Diegans, 1 out of 4 are either a senior or a veteran and often both. The number of seniors dealing with physical disabilities and memory disorders, like Alzheimers, are rising much faster than any adequate, humane and cost-effective solutions can be implemented.
Increasing numbers are becoming fully dependent on others or ending up on the streets and sidewalks in front of our homes and businesses and under the trees and in the bushes of our parks. Precious few are being productively rehabilitated back into society. The rest remain hungry, cold, alone, homeless, diseased, incarcerated, hospitalized, societal outcasts chased from community to community, harassed and left to die.
As a nation, we have grown shamefully adept at ignoring, avoiding or throwing dollars down a rat hole as Band-Aids, which do not address causes and only temporarily disguise the ugly truths. We trip on the less fortunate as we walk through our neighborhoods trying not to see them. We pay with a loss of social cohesiveness and a decline in our moral fiber that eats away at our tax dollars and are witnessing a declining standard of living, and a loss of happiness, sense of security and well-being permeating our communities.
Now the good news: During the last 11 years, I have had the incredible honor and opportunity to work with an ever-increasing number of community and local government leaders and organizations to create greater public awareness and develop strategies to better prepare us for an aging population.
In the past two years, I have been following and working closely as a volunteer with AIS, the San Diego Foundation, other community organizations, as well as with leaders, local government and other concerned San Diegans to better prepare the county and its residents for a time that Supervisor Jacob has described as “unprepared.”
I am starting to see real evidence that San Diego County, various community organizations, government officials, businesses, health care providers and individuals, are finally awakening to address both the downsides and potential benefits that the aging phenomena of a disproportionately aging population poses.
Many say we can and are morally obligated to meet the challenge. Others say we are not obligated and cannot solve the root causes. Whatever camp we fall into, there is no escaping the high cost to be paid if we do not plan ahead. How and with what we will pay as individuals and a society is the only real question.
As a community, we truly need to seriously consider if we are asking and demanding of ourselves and our elected and appointed public officials a realistic prioritization of the best initiatives, projects and expenditures to build and sustain a world-class city — and county — standing for people of all ages.
In any case, the time of reckoning is now.
— Reach Bill Kelly at email@example.com.