The National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment, of the National Council on Aging, has published a new study (May 2011) on the issues facing “isolated seniors”:
One in six seniors living alone in the United States faces physical, cultural, and/or geographical barriers that prevent them from receiving benefits and services that can improve their economic security, and ability to live healthy, independent lives.
The goal of study is to identify not just the problems, but some approaches that might improve access to critical resources, programs and benefits.
The statistics on isolated versus non-isolated seniors shows some important characteristics. I have highlighted a few critical ones, below:
Characteristics Isolated Not Isolated All Population
Median age 81 years 73 years 74 years
Female 72.4 54.5% 57.5%
Widowed 65.0% 22.3% 29.6%
Non-white 19.3% 19.9% 19.8%
Moved past year 12.6% 4.8% 5.6%
Served in military 15.6% 24.3% 22.8%
Renting 27.1% 12.6% 15.0%
> high school 30.9% 44.4% 42.1%
Income 152% FPL 323% FPL 295% FPL
Clearly there is a tendency for isolation to increase with age and a change from married to non-married status. Economic status (which, I would argue, is also reflected in owning your home versus renting) is also a clear factor. It is interesting that having served in the military tends to be associated with isolation being less likely. Determining whether there is a causal link – e.g., more social networking for veterans – would be worthwhile.
The most common factor preventing isolated seniors from discovering or applying for benefits and programs is the existence of a disability. That is true for 90% of seniors defined as isolated in the study. More than half of isolated seniors indicate the existence of a “physical, mental, or emotional condition” that makes it hard for them to travel, even locally, to program offices.
In addition, nearly 44% (2.9 million) of isolated seniors report visual and/or hearing disabilities which might prevent them from using web-based or on-the-phone application systems. Lastly, one-third of the isolated seniors report a physical, mental, or emotional condition that affects their ability to remember, concentrate, and make decisions; this could represent an important barrier to completing an application.
So, clearly, there are many causes of isolation, but disability of some form is a major factor. Until the underlying disability is dealt with — again, we are talking about 90% of isolated seniors suffer from some form of disability — the existence of benefits and programs has little positive impact. That is true of home care services, as well, whether government subsidized or, as with Support For Home, based on private pay. If the isolated senior is unaware of such services, there is nothing we can do to help them.
We will return to this study and the issues of isolated seniors.
Best wishes, Bert