COLUMN: Support our older adults

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

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Housing costs, taxes, and food prices have skyrocketed in recent years. Inflation has had a negative effect on everyone. While many of us adjust to changes like these by cutting back on expenses like dining out and movie tickets, older adults, who were once financially stable, are now struggling.

An increasing number of our senior citizens are living month-to-month and facing difficult choices like choosing between paying their rent or buying their medications. Some further compromise their health by limiting their food purchases. Extreme weather, like high heat or freezing temperatures, can also become life-threatening if older adults are unable to keep up with their air conditioning or heating bills. Did you know that older adults are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population? How could this be happening right here in Hampton Roads!? 

These are real situations that occur daily in our own backyards. Unfortunately, as a nation, we have been slow to recognize that the world has changed. Economists have long warned about the coming “silver tsunami,” but we fail to recognize that we are currently experiencing it. In fact, for the first time the 60-and-older population has surpassed the number of youths aged 18 and under. Our practices and policies need to be updated to be inclusive of older adults who deserve an equal share of respect, support, consideration, and financial resources as the rest of our community. That’s health equity in aging.

To create a more equitable environment for our older adults we can take the following steps: 

Recognize the value of a strong and vibrant older adult part of our community and commit to building the infrastructure required to keep our older adults healthy and active. 

Acknowledge that the effects of the retiring baby-boom generation are already being felt and commit to a policy of equitable aging. 

Create an opportunity for financial stability starting with tax considerations. Lower taxes for older adults and increase the number of older adults who qualify for tax-free living.

Make affordable inclusive senior housing a civic priority. 

Strengthen support for community-based organizations that empower our older adults to stay healthy, active and engaged with the community. The demand for assistance and services continues to grow exponentially. Now is the time to strengthen these critical services if we hope to keep our older adults contributing members of our community. 

By working together, we can build a stronger Hampton Roads that recognizes the value of our older citizens and ensures they will receive an equitable share of respect, support, consideration, and financial resources. In doing so, we will be building a stronger, more resilient community for us all. 

Steve Zollos is the chief executive officer with Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia, our local Area Agency on Aging. Senior Services has been providing essential services such as home-delivered meals and transportation for individuals aged 60 years of age and older for more than 50 years.