Seniors particularly hard-hit by bad economy

Published11/24/2008 12:15 AM

Sharon Smith, executive director of Des Plaines Community and Frisbie Senior Centers calls the current economic downturn "a perfect storm" for seniors and the agencies serving them.

"It's impacting everyone in our society, but everyone on a fixed income is being even more marginalized," Smith said. "It's a perfect storm, less money going in, greater needs, less money for services."


Older adults who may once have been able to pay their rent, mortgage or property taxes and still buy medications and groceries are finding that dollars don't stretch that far anymore.

Nor are older adults immune to the real estate downturn. Many may have refinanced or downsized and now find themselves in a mortgage crisis, or are concerned as home values plummet.

"Many seniors have had to begin picking and choosing what to spend their money on, asking themselves, 'Do I skip this medication or eat a little less today?'" Smith said.

Group meals offered by senior centers are more in demand, but needy older adults are less able to pay. Des Plaines senior centers served 8,700 meals in 2007, with the service year ending in September. This year the center served 10,000 and is receiving less from participants; the average donation has declined from $3 per meal to $1.10.

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In May, AARP released "The Economic Slowdown's Impact on Middle-aged and Older Americans," which revealed 59 percent of older adults reported financial concerns were forcing them to skip medications, cut back on air conditioning or heating their homes and cancel social outings.

More older adults are keeping their cars in the garage in an attempt to save gas costs and utilizing senior bus services.

"People are uncertain," said Carol Reagan, executive director of the Palatine Township Senior Center. "We have a diverse population here, a wide gamut of economic levels. But we do have some folks who don't come as frequently. We've seen a drop in volunteer activities because of financial concerns, and we're seeing an increase in ridership of our senior bus service."

Senior social service departments are fielding more questions about money management and financial planning, as well as help in applying for energy and prescription drug assistance, Reagan said.

"Our business is going to go up no matter what the economic conditions are," said Lucia West Jones, executive director of the Northeast Illinois Area Agency on Aging. "Seniors are living longer - the average life span is now age 84 and 85. One in eight are over the age of 70. Medical science has made it possible for seniors to live longer, but that doesn't necessarily mean better. These are especially challenging times for us all."

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