What Questions Should Older Adults Ask the Candidates?

August 1, 2016

An elegant grandma talking through a megaphone

Two-thirds of all people who are older than 65 in the entire history of the world are alive today.  I am among them.  According to Ken Dychtwald, PhD, Founder of Age Wave the average life expectancy when the Constitution was written was 36 years old.

Today there are over 10,000 people a day turning 70, who have been enrolled in Medicare since 65 and most if not all, are relying on Social Security earnings.  This voting block has surged just since the 2012 election with older adults showing up much stronger at the polls (72%) versus younger adults (45%).  How does this affect the upcoming elections and the candidates?  What are the policy stances of the candidates around older adults?

If we could get the candidates attention, what should they know about issues around older adults?

  1. Who is old?  Medicare says old is 65 years to receive benefits.  Social Security says 62, 67 or earlier if disabled.  Life expectancy is approaching 79 years old, has continued to increase with better healthcare and personal wellness decisions but these entitlement programs are still stuck in the 60’s.  With the increased numbers of older adults and increased costs, doesn’t it make sense to review what the right age is old and establish a baseline that is the same for government programs?
  2. What health issues affect most and what are the costs? One out of 2 people over 85 are afflicted with Alzheimer’s or related memory loss.  This age group is the fastest growing segment of the older population.  There is still no cure or even relative treatment that works.  Family caregivers (among 34 million) have to quit their jobs, juggle care giving duties and jeopardize their own health  while caring for someone who has chronic physical medical or memory impairment.   How will our elected officials address both public policy and financial issues currently and in the future as these critical issues move even more to the forefront?
  3. How can elder poverty be averted for older adults? According to the GAO nearly half of all people over 55+ and approaching retirement have no retirement savings.  When individuals begin to think about retirement, approximately 50% of them will have to depend solely on Social Security as they have no pensions. This is a big factor in the reason that more older adults continue working past expected retirement.   How will the candidates begin to address the need for personal accountability and savings around growing old and living longer?  Who will take care of these people?
  4. Do candidates believe in ageism? What level of respect do older adults receive regarding special needs, re-employment, decision-making, etc.?  Are the candidates, all of whom are entering their older years themselves willing to set the bar above the discrimination and lack of regard for the wisdom of the elders?

Older adults come in many shapes, sizes, colors and cultures.  All of us as we’re able continue to move through the day with memories and  history that we’ve experienced – actions resulting in the Korean War, Vietnam War, and worldwide conflicts today.  We’ve led companies, become citizens, participated in grape boycotts, endured assassinations of national and world leaders, seen civil rights issues emerge and change and raised children who today are leaders in technology, government,  health and manufacturing to mention a few.   Many of us continue to play major roles in caring for quite elderly parents or family members.  We’ve experience losses, successes and live life knowing the end is closer than it was.

There is an individual and collective wisdom that is available just for the asking.  What role could a future President, State and local officials take in elevating older adults and elders to use their experiences and expertise and continue their contributions to their community, their country?  Will they?

Carol S. Heape, MSW, CMC is Founder/CEO of Elder Options, Inc. serving the Sacramento Region  since 1988.

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