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Senior Issues

demicheleThis new column comes from Joanne DeMichele, who says of herself:"My most recent career was as a natural health practitioner and myofascial bodyworker. I have had a career in estate and financial planning, taxes, and have taught Reevaluation Counselling and Emotional Freedom Techniques. I have done Victim-Offender Mediation, a restorative justice program designed to resolve conflict and keep youth out of the prison system by giving them the opportunity to resolve their conflicts face to face.

Seniors have been a major part of my life and careers. My interest in senior issues began 40 years ago. As an estate planning paralegal and financial planner, I had many opportunities to help widows and widowers through the paperwork and other new challenges facing them. As a natural health practitioner, I worked with adults and seniors interested in healthy aging.

Most seniors know what it is like to have a love affair with a vehicle. Growing up in the 40s, 50s, and 60s meant having a passion and even a romance with a car. An automobile was more than transportation. It was a part of the culture that included drive-in restaurants (carhops and roller skates, not a drive-through), drive-in movies (back seat romance), hotrods, muscle cars, convertibles, and unique love songs (“Little Deuce Coupe,” “409,” “Mustang Sally,” and “G.T.O.”). For these now older adults, having a car and driving is still a lifeline, a road to freedom and independence and opportunities.

Studies show that giving up driving increases a person’s mortality risk and makes seniors more prone to suffer from depression and land in nursing homes. According to a February 2016 article in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, “there is mounting evidence that driving cessation in older adults may contribute to a variety of health problems.” The unfortunate truth is that most individuals outlive their safe driving life expectancy by seven to ten years.

September is National Senior Center Month. It is a time to celebrate the essential programs, activities, services, and benefits offered to aging individuals, their caregivers, and communities. It is also a time to safeguard these programs and envision future possibilities.

Senior centers were created in 1965 as part of the Older Americans Act (OAA) to allow seniors to remain independent and engaged citizens. Although the primary focus of the OAA is to help low-income individuals and people living in rural areas, centers are open to everyone 60 and older. As with all communities, senior centers are strongest with cultural, social, and economic diversity.

Seniors make up 16.5% of New Mexico’s population (12.9% is the national average) and 26.1% of Grant County’s. According to the US Census Bureau, by 2030, New Mexico will have the 4th largest percentage of people 65 and older (up from 39th in 2000).

I recently returned from Cleveland where I visited my 94-year-old mother.

My mom’s level of activity has diminished during the past several years. When she initially moved from home to Independent Living, she went on every excursion and experienced full days of activities. The woman who took the residents on outings told me she always knew she had at least one passenger whenever she decided on a spontaneous adventure. Now, five years later, my mother is legally blind, has trouble hearing with hearing aids, and it is an effort for her to walk even with a walker. Other than family and doctor visits, she goes to the dining room for three meals, gets her hair done once a week, and plays bingo twice a week—or more if offered.
On Bingo day, my mother apologizes to me saying she hopes I don't mind if she plays Bingo instead of visiting. Sometimes she asks if I want to play. Until my latest visit, I would opt to run errands or catch up on emails. Afterward, she would report on the excitement I missed.

As I face my 69th birthday, I am troubled by cutbacks in senior services when programs for aging adults are more necessary than ever.

People 65 and older have become the largest percentage and fastest-growing group in the United States. Baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, are becoming seniors at a rate of 10,000 people each day.