According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there were 40.3 million U.S. residents 65 years and older in the 2010 Census and more than 54 million on July 1, 2019. The nation’s 65 and older population has been growing rapidly since 2010, driven by the aging of Baby Boomers born between 1946 and 1964.

In 1988, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed Aug. 21 as National Senior’s Citizens Day. In his proclamation President Reagan wrote, “Throughout our history, older people have achieved much for our families, our communities, and our country. That remains true today, and gives us ample reason this year to reserve a special day in honor of the senior citizens who mean so much to our land.”

There is no question that people today are living longer than those a generation ago, and staying healthier into their golden years. A decade from now, the year 2030, marks an important demographic turning point in U.S. history according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 National Population Projections. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than age 65. This will expand the size of the older population so that 1 in every 5 residents will be retirement age.

“The aging of baby boomers means that within just a decade, older people are projected to outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history,” said Jonathan Vespa, a demographer with the U.S. Census Bureau. “By 2034, there will be 77 million people 65 years and older compared to 76.5 million under the age of 18.”

Advances in healthcare for seniors has allowed for a longer life, and has also provided more options for how and where to spend those later years. Services such as home health and meals-on-wheels allow many seniors to stay in their own homes much longer, and assisted living facilities offer freedom for their residents to come and go while providing peace of mind and care when needed.

Today’s seniors are faced with a new set of challenges, and for many the state of their mental health has become a primary focus. During this Covid-19 pandemic, Americans of all ages are experiencing increased social isolation and loneliness. According to the National Institute on Aging, nearly 14 million older adults in the U.S. live alone and are especially vulnerable during this time. The institute’s research has linked social isolation and loneliness to higher risks for a variety of physical and mental conditions: high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and even death. The good news is there are caring individuals and wonderful programs available to help.

Senior Life Solutions at Gothenburg Health encourages seniors to engage in meaningful, productive activities to help boost mood and maintain their overall emotional health and well-being. “It is important to find ways to connect and engage in activities to help mitigate symptoms of anxiety and depression during this time,” said Cassie Hilbers, Program Director for Senior Life Solutions.

Some of the tips Hilbers offers for older adults who may be experiencing social isolation during this time include taking up a new hobby, such as growing an herb garden, crossword puzzles, knitting or painting. Maybe now is the time to try that thing you have always wanted to learn to do, but just never taken the time.

Age-appropriate workouts are not only good for your physical health, it keeps you in mental shape too. If you are able to get outside and you have approval from your physician, taking a short walk is good for the mind and good for the soul.

Writing may have become a lost art for the younger generation, but for those 65 and older that was the common form of communication. This would be a great time to start journaling your thoughts, if you don’t already do so. Maybe go through all of your photos and organize scrapbooks; or write out your memoirs for the future generations of your family. They will love that!

As a community it is important for each of us to be aware of our neighbors, especially if we have elderly ones. Maybe give them a call or slip them a note just to check on them and see if they need anything. Even if they don’t, just knowing someone cared enough to ask will likely brighten their day.

Tonya Pacheco with Hilltop Estates Rehabilitation Center in Gothenburg said that the staff at that facility is committed to doing what they can to keep the residents engaged and mentally healthy during this time of physical distancing from loved ones. “We are encouraging family members and friends to call or have window visits with our residents. We also let the family members know that we can Facetime, Zoom, or Facebook Messenger with any of the residents. Cards or letters are also welcomed! We are now able to host bingo and other fun projects in our activities room. Our residents are happy to have that ability back,” said Pacheco.

One resource in Gothenburg which typically provides activities and socialization for the older population is the Senior Center. From cards, crafts, pool and meals - the Senior Center is a gathering spot for anyone over the age of 60. That is, until the pandemic hit.

The Center is currently not open to dine-in guests and has suspended all activities for the time being, but are still providing delivery and curbside pickup meals. Center Director Susan Anderson said there are things seniors can be doing at home to remain active until the center reopens, and even after.

“The best thing to do is to remain active and maintain a schedule as best you can. Stay in contact with your neighbors and friends,” said Anderson. “Engage in puzzles or read a good book. If eyesight is limited there are talking books. Also, limit the TV watching, as that can cause anxiety. Staying physically active is also good for your health. Find ways to volunteer.”

Anderson suggested that those of us in the community make frequent calls to check on the elderly that can’t get out of their home. “You can also socially distance by doing visits outside while the weather is nice,” she added.  

Stone Hearth Estates Administrator Barb Nuxoll said the greatest benefit of living and working at Stone Hearth is that they have each other. “Many times throughout the day we see one another, whether it is when we provide care, offer snacks, enjoy a pedicure or manicure, or deliver meals. There are times when chatting with Jo at the front desk is just a pleasure. People spend time wandering around outside, gardening, or visiting each other. And then boy oh boy have we gotten good at games: Do you Remember, Word Scramble, Word Association, and Bingo with more Bingo are just some of what we do,” said Nuxoll.

“We have learned to Zoom, Facetime, Skype, do Google Meetings, Messenger Video, and just when we never thought we’d see an old farmers fingers type in an access code, we do! Our greatest asset is connection with family. They continue to encourage and engage not only their loved ones, but us, the people that work at Stone Hearth. It helps too to know that we are not shouldering this burden alone when we socially distance, wear masks and limit group activity - that others are making those sacrifices as well.”

As we observe National Senior Citizen Day on Friday we not only recognize our seniors, but also those who are dedicated to continually maintaining and improving their quality of life.

Contact Ellen Mortensen at ellen@gothenburgleader.com or call 308.537.9498