Mark James Miller

Joyce Lippman has been working in the field of gerontology for 40 years, getting her degree in the scientific study of old age and the process of aging from Syracuse University when it was one of only seven colleges that offered a major in that discipline.

Her dream is to see that every senior “is safe and secure in their home.” As executive director of the San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara Area Agency on Aging, (AAA) one of her most important tasks is to disseminate information to seniors, their families and their caregivers on the challenges our senior population faces and to make people aware of the resources available that can assist in meeting those challenges.

The U.S. population is rapidly aging, faster than many people realize. Middle-aged people already outnumber children, and in less than 20 years seniors will also outnumber those aged 18 and below. When the last baby boomers pass 65 in 2030, older Americans will make up 21 percent of the population.

The issues seniors are facing go beyond the obvious of health care and in-home service. Older people face loneliness and social isolation. In a 2017 study done by the AAA 58 percent of Central Coast seniors reported living alone. They also need assistance with home repair, transportation and understanding Medicare.

But three challenges that especially stand out are fraud, falls and abuse.

Fraudsters using fake caller IDs to disguise who they are often target seniors, pretending to be from the IRS or Social Security, demanding money or social security numbers.

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Seniors take falls for a variety of reasons, such as impaired vision, tripping hazards in the home, and being in poor physical condition. Falls can cause serious injuries and to make matters worse, some seniors are unable to rise and call for help.

Abuse of older people, like child or spousal abuse, frequently goes undisclosed. Estimates are that one in 10 elders are abused every year. The abusers are often family members or caregivers, and only one in 14 cases are reported. Abuse can be emotional, such as threatening or belittling. It can take the form of neglect, or financial exploitation. Perhaps worst of all is physical abuse, such as beatings or being restrained with rope.

Joyce emphasizes how important it is for seniors to take part in next year’s census.

“This will give us a greater picture on how many seniors there are, where they are, and what they need,” she said. Seniors also need to be prepared for the projected power outages, and she advises that every senior should have a “Vial of Life,” a small, flat plastic box with a magnet on the back for placing it on a refrigerator door, and it is the first thing an emergency responder looks for when going into someone’s home. It contains detailed information for emergency medical responders — name, address, primary and secondary physicians, drug and food allergies. Basic, vital information that in an emergency could save a person’s life and will make caring for them much easier, especially in extreme circumstances. They can be obtained for free from the AAA.

There is no lack of resources available for seniors, their families and their caregivers. The AAA, at 528 S. Broadway in Santa Maria, is a virtual treasure trove of help and information. Booklets and brochures are available on subjects as comprehensive as understanding Medicare, finding a caregiver and home repair.

You can contact the AAA at 805-925-9554. If you suspect elder abuse, you can call the Elder Abuse Hotline, 805-568-2442. You can also call Adult Protective Services, 844-751-6729.

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Mark James Miller is an associate English instructor at Allan Hancock College and president of the Part-Time Faculty Association. He can be reached at mark@pfaofahc.com.