Sunday, December 21, 2014

Life of Senior Citizens in the Modern Age – Opportunities, Challenges and Solutions




Life of Senior Citizens
While the modern age has produced certain advantages for senior citizens, it has also thrown up new problems and challenges.

Let us mention some advantages first. Modern transportation makes getting around much easier especially for senior citizens. The internet and mobile communication devices make communications, shopping and access of information easy for a citizen who is getting on in years and less able to get around. Modern healthcare has made life easier in many ways. An aging person can easily acquire reading glasses, dentures and even some cosmetic things like hair dyes that can make him or her look and feel younger. Simple things like antibiotics can conquer an infection and increase longevity. Other simple surgical procedures are available to make the life of a senior citizen easier. However, there is a dark side to it as well, there are modern medical procedures that will make money and comfort for the doctor but leave the senior worse off than ever before and senior citizens must exercise caution and careful consideration before submitting to any such.

Financial Difficulties

There was a time when a senior citizen retired and he had some savings or pensions he knew he had some savings because then money was measured against something solid like gold and bankers did not expect a bonus that touched the sky. In the modern age there is no guarantee what savings would mean tomorrow with inflation or other financial policies the government or the bank adopts. It will impact on the near virtual money that people hold in their hands today. It is merely paper that can be printed at will, held together by mere faith in a system that is subject to change with elections and levels of greed that prevail with the powerful. Bank interest rates of term deposits hardly keep up even if a bank does not sink because of its huge bonuses, risky loans and gambling; while putting the money in an investment company could be worse in some cases when the next financial crisis comes or if the agency is owned by a Bernie Madhoff.

In case there is inflation, it is true that the value of an asset like a home can go up considerably but if one lives in that home it is of no use to the senior citizen, while if he gets a reverse mortgage with a bank he is pushed from the security of a fully owned home to the insecurity of one owned by the bank. A solution for some well off senior citizens has been to own additional two or three homes or lands besides their primary residence that they can dispose off every five or ten years, two or three times during the course of their senior years, after their retirement to reap the benefits of inflation. Some others have traditionally kept a part of assets in gold biscuits in bank lockers and although gold prices do not always rise over the short term they have risen over the long tern to suit a senior citizen just fine.

Home Alone

While modern health care can increase life spans that in itself becomes a problem when a senior citizen is left alone in life. Happily married couples do not leave for heaven together, leaving one of them behind at a stage of life when a person is least able to cope alone. In other cases a person is left single much earlier through divorce that has become more common in modern times than it has ever been in the past. While it is true that being alone is better than persisting in an unhappy marriage, being alone is no cake walk either. In the past some of the unhappy couples managed to develop a working or even a good relationship over time, whereas in the new age when a person marries again he or she may find that they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire.

Children grow up and move away in an increasingly mobile world and unlike in the past where families continued to persist in the same town for generations, there are no close relatives at hand at a moment of need. The growing population and increased mobility means that towns and cities have become larger and neighborhoods impersonal into which new people move in from time to time including criminals looking for soft targets such as senior citizens, thus creating new insecurities in the life of senior citizens that were  absent in the past.

A solution for some senior citizens has been to move in with their children or have them move in with you if they agree, or better still have an independent apartment in the home of the son or daughter. That way the senior can have company of grandchildren and call upon the son or daughter at times of difficulty while providing support to the young family too. The children get looked after better when the parents are away and so does the home. While this has been a good solution in some cases, it has not been so in many other cases for reasons that are known to the concerned person and would be too long to include here. It is also not possible in all cases.

The problem of being left alone at a vulnerable age is something that is faced not just by the poor and middle classes but also the very rich. Even a billionaire living in a mansion has to depend on staff and when a staff member goes on leave or changes jobs, life can change into misery. As regards security, this author has observed the case of a rich person who had kept security guards who robbed him eventually. Security guards can in many cases be the biggest security risk for a rich person, or even that personal nurse, who when she found out where the old man hid his diamonds doubled his medicinal dose one night to wipe her tears over his dead body next morning while she tucked the diamonds deeper into the folds of her gown : -).

Some seniors seek recourse to an old age home but here too, there are new difficulties that may crop up. First is that they may not like the management style and the regulations they prescribe that vary from home to home. Next is they may detest the food that is served in the common mess. After some time the company of persons as old as or older than them may become tiring and a visit by the church group or charity at Christmas  contrived. In the worst of cases, the old age home may levy charges that become more and more unaffordable with age until the time comes when the old person is thrown out on the street at an age when the only option that remains is to bid goodbye to the world under the starry skies on a cold freezing night.

A Possible Solution;

A possible solution for senior citizens is to come together in groups of ten, twenty or thirty of like minded individuals from similar financial and cultural background and create their own joint senior home with common essential services. That way they can mange their affairs through a committee that they elect and change every year. The problem of food from a common kitchen may be overcome if their individual apartments have a kitchen or kitchenette and if they have the option to choose how many meals to have at the common mess while also having the option to have the food delivered in a tray to their apartment at a time they feel indisposed. The problem of only having seniors for company is overcome if the complex has a portion to rent to younger working persons or families. Such a rent would also provide income to the complex and an opportunity to continue contributing to society even at a senior age aside from looking after themselves. With a carefully designed plan, it is possible that the senior and spouse has to make just a single one time payment for life so that the problem of increasing fees would not arise with age.

The nature of the complex can vary according to financial background and the required one time payment. It may vary from a resort for the very rich that has a swimming pool, sauna, gardens, golf course, fields for their own organic produce etc. to the most basic compact dormitory style accommodation with shared bathrooms for the very poor.

There should also be the provision for a senior to opt out in case he or she finds another alternative with a refund of a reasonable portion of their initial payment, a portion that would depend on the number of years they have stayed in the joint home and paid from the fees collected from a new addition to the complex.  While all this may sound utopian it is perfectly feasible with careful planning and design. Certainly it can also become a mess if that planning is not done at the outset. This author has applied his experience and mind to the issue and he proposes to discuss in future the details of such a complex in this blog to assist others although for his own self it may have become a bit late in the day.  Some aspects of it have already been suggested in an older post with drawings for design of apartments as well as a complex for a group of twenty senior citizens (here). Wisdom often comes when the time for its use has flown by, but it is a good idea to share it with others who may still be able make use of it.

An alternative route that may be simpler for a group of like minded seniors wishing to develop common housing and services is to purchase individual adjacent plots in their own individual names while creating a common society to purchase another lot adjoining it to develop common facilities, and agreeing informally to house the entire complex in a common compound. Such a purchase is possible in undemarcated countryside land from a single seller on which construction is permitted. Thereby in case the joint activity does not work well the individual members still have their own plots to do with as they please.

However, it may be mentioned that such self run senior groups and the complex cannot come up overnight. It would take from two to five years before a group is created, with new members being added as some original ones leave, acquire land, design and build the complex, prepare and register the bylaws to mange it and make it operational. While modern humans are good at planning for retirement, few are good at preparing for the latter very old age part of their retirements but it is something a wise citizen of the world may start considering soon as they are fifty or at the most when they are sixty five. It would be wise to do so and it is the need of the modern age. Quite apart from the difficulties pointed out in this note, it is necessary to mention that old age can easily be the most joyous part of life not the most miserable but it requires a human to turn his or her gaze inwards to the spiritual side and outwards to commune with nature. There is already a lot on that in numerous posts of this blog.

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