Seniors face many challenges in their lives. Some are new challenges for seniors, many are ongoing challenges they have been coping with. Challenges may be met with despair, indifference, or accepted as obstacles to be conquered or modified and mastered.. Each of the following challenges can and will be a separate post of its own. I hope that as you read this, you leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comments at the end.
What Do We Mean By Seniors?
I’m using the term senior to mean someone who is noticing changes due to aging, or someone who is thinking that these changes are coming. To me, setting an arbitrary age (55+, over 65, whatever) is not very useful. Everyone ages differently, and many folks younger that 55 are facing the same challenges we older folks are. And of course, many of these challenges are not specific to seniors, but are common among many people. I have chosen them however, because they are challenges a large part of the senior population faces.
What Are The Most Common Challenges To Seniors?
- Physical Aging–This is something we all go through differently, but is certainly a challenge to all seniors.
- Loneliness or Isolation–For many, losing family or friends presents serious change.
- Financial Security–A huge issue for many seniors who will not have an adequate income for retirement.
- Mental and Emotional Health–Remaining sharp, coping with memory changes, avoiding depression.
Each of these is a very broad category, but with these four topics, we can cover most of the serious challenges common to many seniors, and that tend to become more difficult with aging. There is a tremendous amount of overlapping of these issues (for instance, physical aging may lead to isolation if the individual can no longer get out, financial problems related to healthcare, and depression over the changed situation), but it gives us a framework.
Certainly each of us ages differently, but we all notice physical changes. For many, this includes health issues, either chronic or abrupt illness. For those of us lucky enough to be healthy, we still have physical changes with aging. We look different than we did at twenty, we are probably not as supple or as strong, we may have mobility issues, we probably tire more easily.
Many people have trouble accepting these changes. There are many ways we can press back at physical changes to make the best of the inevitable aging process.
Optimizing our health becomes more essential as we age. Physical exercise becomes more difficult, so we do less. No! We need to find ways to exercise, even if we have had to give up activities we love. I can no longer hike in rugged terrain for hours. I have always loved hiking, and for a while I pretty much gave it up because it was so difficult to do it the way I had. I am no longer able to scramble up and down rough terrain, and would become sore and tired–and still have miles to go.
But then I got sensible–giving up what was a large part of my life was ridiculous. And I could feel my endurance slipping quickly from being idle. So I started planning shorter hikes, with some steep (although admittedly short) uphill grades early in the hike while I was fresh, to feel I was building myself back up. I felt physically better again, and emotionally more cheerful.
Not everyone hikes, I know. But take what you can no longer do and modify it if possible, so you can still do it, rather than give it up.
If you are really limited physically, it is still important to exercise. Chair exercises that you can do while seated have many health benefits and will increase your sense of well-being.
As a nurse, I have seen many people work to make the best of health issues to improve their well-being. I have also seen many people give in to their poor health and not make an effort to become as well as they can be given an unfortunate health issue. I am not minimizing these issues, and saying one needs to buck up and get well! Not at all! But as our health or fitness changes, we need to find ways to maximize what we have.
Your doctor or other health professional should be able to provide resources that can help you understand your condition and what you can do to be as healthy as you can. Most locations have a Board of Aging that may be able to aim you at the right resources.
Loneliness Or Isolation
As we age it seems losses are inevitable. Many of these losses can be devastating. Loss of a spouse or other close family member, loss of friends though death or their moving away after retirement, loss of our routine and social contacts when we retire, loss of our favorite activities we are no longer up to doing and the related social circle. It is depressing even to list these losses. No wonder loneliness or a sense of isolation is such a prevalent problem for seniors.
For some, volunteer work is a great way to fill the gaps in our lives, and give us a sense of purpose at the same time. Whatever your interests are, or activities have been, there is probably a volunteer opportunity that would work for you. If you go online to https://www.nationalservice.gov, you will find information about Senior Corp. This is a national and local program for those 55 and over who wish to volunteer. It offers Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions and RSVP (a diverse volunteer program).
There should be other volunteer opportunities in your community–check with the local Board on Aging, ask if your local library has a program of reading to small children (or start one), visit your local animal shelter to see if they need dog walkers or kitten snugglers.
If you are lonely, or just want to make new friends, there are ways in any community. Senior facilities love to have other seniors come to play games with residents, or visit with them. Your locale may have a Senior Center. Don’t feel senior enough? Ask if you can volunteer to help out there.
The opportunities are endless if you look for them. You will make new friends, make a worthwhile contribution to your community, and share skills you have learned with others.
1 in 10 seniors 65 years and older live in poverty, and many others feel insecure about their financial future.
Many were unable to put aside enough for retirement. Or inflation has made their savings inadequate. Struggling with debt is common for seniors. Perhaps they helped children or grandchildren and tapped into their own savings to do so. I spent most of my retirement savings paying for my parents’ care when their funds proved inadequate because of illness.
Many seniors have overwhelming credit card debt from these causes, or their own medical bills or unforeseen expenses (like a major house repair that was unexpected). Most seniors have Medicare, which is awesome insurance, but still medical bills can mount up.
Managing finances can be difficult after the death of a spouse, especially if that person was the one handling the family finances.
Many seniors stay working, or go back to work after retirement. Often for financial reasons, but also, for many, because they miss the social interaction, routine or sense of purpose working can bring.
My own financial outlook was bleak after retiring, and that is actually what prompted me to look into options and ultimately create this website. I really wanted to be able to make my own schedule. So I looked online extensively for work at home opportunities. Many of them involved phone calls, which I was not up for, or were get-rich-quick scams.
One review lead me to Wealthy Affiliate, which made it sound possible for me to create my own on-line business. Something I otherwise considered way too hard for me, totally out of reach. I joined with the free starter option, and was soon totally involved. I have reviewed Wealthy Affiliate in greater depth in another post.
The greatest benefit to me was challenging me mentally, forcing me to learn new skills, and giving me confidence that I could learn these new skills. It started out borderline overwhelming, and then turned into fun. Facing what, to me, was a huge challenge, and seeing some progress toward my goals has given me new energy and enthusiasm for all phases of my life.
It has made me want to explore all the ways that seniors can face their challenges, and help others to do so also. Hence, this website, still in its infancy, but hopefully growing stronger and more helpful each day.
Mental And Emotional Health
Physical changes, changes in our role in the family and community, retirement or change in jobs, financial pressures, everyday struggles to care for ourselves or our homes. . . the list goes on and on. All of these pressures can take a toll on our mental and emotional health.
Although we certainly don’t have control over many aspects of aging, we can take steps to maximize our strengths and help avoid some future problems. If we take stock of what keeps us happy and makes us feel good, and work to build on these, it can do wonders for emotional health. We may have to modify things that we used to do. For instance, if you love tending things, but can’t cope with a large garden anymore, go for a small garden or even some potted houseplants to tend. Be realistic, but don’t give up on things you love doing.
You love children but yours are grown and live far away? Find friends who would like you to babysit on occasion, or help one of their youngsters with a garden of his own. Look into the 4-H, scout, boys and girls clubs in your area and offer to help. Maybe they would be interested in a garden project, and you could share your skills. Many schools have after school programs and welcome volunteers to help, or to present a program on something they are knowledgeable about.
I had to give up my rugged hiking, which was a blow to me, but by modifying it to shorter hikes with some fitness goals, I overcame the sadness and build a realistic activity I really enjoy. If I wanted to go further with it, I could offer some scouts or kids groups a program of hiking awareness and skills. Or put out feelers in my local paper to form an old fogie hiking group. Hmm. Not a bad idea!
I think most older folks worry at least to some degree about dementia and memory loss. Most recent research lists exercise, good nutrition and being mentally active (especially learning a new skill) as major forces to prevent dementia and undue memory loss. All things that are good for our emotional well-being in general!
To Wrap It Up
We seniors face many challenges, many of them new to us as we age. Some we can overcome, but many we have to seek ways to modify so we can meet them. It takes a bit of effort on our part, and the hardest part of that might be to decide you are going to meet the challenge and do something about it. Inertia–it can be very hard to get ourselves going to face a challenge. But then the inertia will work in our favor! Once we get started, it will be easier to keep going–especially as we start to see the benefits.
It’s hard to start a new exercise program, but once you get going and feel better, it is easier to keep going. It is very hard to start a new diet, but when you see you have lost a few pounds, the motivation to keep going is there. It was hard for me to go back to hiking, but once I got out there I realized how much I had missed it and it is now very easy to keep going. Some days I may have less energy, but I just give myself a shorter hike, and come home feeling better than if I had skipped it.
So the message is don’t just accept changes you don’t like. Find ways to meet the challenges make things better for you. And doing it alone is hard. So leave a message and let us know what your challenges have been. And how you are meeting them. No matter what it is, I guarantee you are not alone! Or ask how others have dealt with similar issues. We seniors are a huge community, and we can help each other.
If you want to contact me directly, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.