Seniors especially vulnerable during economic downturn

Evidence is mounting that seniors are cutting everyday expenses to keep up with the economic downturn and, as a result, are putting themselves at risk. From skipping medications and meals to falling for financial scams and cancelling social outings, local eldercare experts warn families to be on alert and make sure seniors aren’t cutting too deeply.
Nearly 60 percent of seniors 65 and older surveyed in a recent AARP study said they found it more difficult to pay for essential items such as food, gas, and medicine. In the May report titled “The Economic Slowdown’s Impact on Middle-Aged and Older Americans,” nearly half (47 percent) said they found it more difficult to pay for utilities such as heating, cooling, or phone service. Forty-six percent have reduced the number of times they eat out and 45 percent cut back spending on entertainment.
“Cuts of essential items such as food and medication should be of immediate concern to seniors’ families,” said Debbie Teofilo, owner of the Home Instead Senior Care office in Long Beach.
“Other reductions in spending can lead to less obvious issues,” she said. “One of the biggest problems that we see is senior isolation, which has been magnified with the high price of gas.”
When seniors’ families live a distance from their loved ones, or when Boomer children are busy trying to make ends meet themselves, an older adult can get in trouble very quickly, said Teofilo.
“That’s why it’s so important that someone look out for the well-being of seniors to ensure they are safe in their homes and eating properly, taking their medications, and able to maintain their appointments and social life,” she said.
Falling interest rates, fixed incomes, and seniors’ fears of past hardships can influence how they react to the current economic slowdown, according to certified financial planner Sheryl Garrett, author of Personal Finance Workbook For Dummies and several other books on financial planning.
“Some seniors may be running short on money, but for others there’s always that fear of running out because they lived through the Depression,” said Garrett. “They know how ugly it can get.”
It’s important also for seniors to guard against fraud and too-good-to-be-true offers, Garrett advises.
“Seniors want to get the best that they can from their investments without falling for scams or overselling tactics,” she said. “Older adults also should beware of CDs and fixed annuities that can promise higher interest rates but force seniors to lock in their money for longer time periods, putting their investments at risk. Always get a second opinion.”
Seniors at all income levels may be facing choices they haven’t had to make in the past, Teofilo said. “They should know where to go for help before they put themselves or their health at risk,” she said.
Area Agencies on Aging, for instance, offer both food and gas assistance, so seniors should contact their local offices if they can’t make ends meet. And senior care and companionship companies can provide transportation assistance and help around the home, and serve as a second set of eyes for seniors’ families, she said.
Families also can play an important role monitoring seniors who have decided to scale back because of the economy, said Teofilo. “Even seemingly innocent decisions, like cutting back a little on groceries or air conditioning, can have a damaging impact,” she said.
For more information about the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, log on to www.n4a.org.
For more information about the Garrett Planning Network, contact Sheryl Garrett at Sheryl@garrettplanning.com.

Finance
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