Author Archives: Judith Graham

Judith Graham

About Judith Graham

Judith Graham (@judith_graham), a Colorado-based freelancer, is AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, and as such curates related material at healthjournalism.org. She welcomes questions and suggestions on aging issue resources and tip sheets at judith@healthjournalism.org.

Aging adults face universal issues of access to care, poverty, discrimination

The aging of the population is a global trend, and one that will affect developing countries even more than the United States and Europe.

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), has served as AHCJ’s topic leader on aging for more than a year. She has been vital to our goal of building the best resources for journalists on this topic. We thank her for her service and look forward to following her and continuing to learn from her.

If you are interested in being the new topic leader on aging, read more about the position and how to apply.

I wrote about this for The New York TimesNew Old Age blog, using as a hook the publication of a major report on the topic from the United Nations Population Fund.

That study is worth reading if only to understand how the issues we’ve been talking about on AHCJ’s aging website are playing out across the world.

It changes your perspective as a reporter when you realize this beat isn’t limited to what’s going on in your city or your state: It concerns an amazing, unprecedented development – the lengthening of the human lifespan – occurring everywhere on this planet.

Here, we’ve been discussing key problems that older people face, such as ageism, age discrimination and elder abuse. When the U.N. Population Fund asked an international sample of 1,150 adults age 60 and above about their experiences, this is what they said:

  • 67 percent said they believed age discrimination affects older people
  • 37 percent said they had experienced age discrimination personally in the last year
  • 43 percent said they were afraid of personal violence
  • 49 percent said they were treated with respect. Flip this around and it means more than half indicate not being treated with respect.

That last statistic brings a knot to my throat.

We’ve also talked here about what can happen when older people lose jobs, see their nest eggs shrink, delay retirement, and struggle with insufficient incomes. The fact of the matter is that poverty isn’t good for any older person’s well being or health, whether she lives in the United States or Bangladesh.

This is what people 60 and older said when asked about this topic for the UN survey:

  • 66 percent wanted to work for money, if only they had the opportunity
  • 33 percent said they had paid employment in the last month
  • 53 percent found it hard or very difficult to pay for basic services
  • 47 percent said they found themselves “always” or “very often” worried about problems with money
Core Topics
Health Reform
Aging
Oral Health
Other Topics

Hardship. That’s what characterizes the life of too many older people across the world.

Adding to that is a substantial burden of poor health and disability that I mention in my New York Times’ piece but that’s worth repeating here. Again, from the UN survey:

  • 44 percent of adults age 60 and older say their health status is fair
  • 22 percent say their health status is bad or very bad
  • 34 percent say it’s difficult or very difficult to access health care when they need it
  • 16 percent say they are very often or always lonely

You’ve probably heard it said, as I have, that how we treat the most vulnerable among us – children, the severely disabled and the elderly – is a measure of who we are, both individually and as a society.

The perceptions of aging documented in the United Nations survey pose a challenge. Is this good enough, the way we’re treating the oldest among us? Can we hold our heads high and feel that we have done all we should?

Personally, when I write about these issues I hope to contribute, in some small measure, to sparking these kinds of questions in peoples’ minds as well as thoughtful policy exchanges.

It’s been a pleasure serving as editor of the aging site this past year. As some of you may know, I’m stepping down as editor to pursue other endeavors. Good luck to all of you.

Related

AHCJ seeks its next topic leader on aging; learn more

Cost of long-term care merits coverage, discussion

With the baby boomers aging into Medicare and heading into years when physical decline and disability gradually become more common, one thing seems certain: Long-term care will inevitably become a much more important topic of national discussion in the years ahead.

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Two recent articles underscore the point. One is by Stuart Butler, director of the Center for Policy Innovations at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. The other is by William Galston, a senior fellow in the governance studies program at the Brookings Institution, another think tank in the nation’s capital.

Both argue that a long-term care crisis is at hand and will only grow in scope as the baby boomers swell the ranks of older people who need assistance with household tasks (bill paying, shopping, cleaning), personal care (bathing, dressing, toileting) and custodial care.

“The growing cost of long-term care (LTC) is fast becoming a problem we can no longer ignore,” Butler writes. Continue reading

Low interest rates affect seniors’ ability to pay medical expenses

A lot is written about people who don’t save enough for retirement. But what about older adults who saved diligently, only to find the value of their nest eggs depleted in this low-interest rate environment?

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

I’m not talking here about stocks that take a tumble, slicing into their value. I’m talking about the interest rates that older people earn on money put away in bonds, money market funds, or certificates of deposit – and that they count on to supplement Social Security payments in their retirement years.

When these interest rates are at historically low levels, as they are now, people who counted on earning 5 percent to 7 percent annually from their savings can find themselves instead earning instead 1 percent to 2 percent. That can make a real difference in the affordability of their retirement plans and their ability to handle expenses such as payments for housing, food, prescription medications or out-of-pocket medical expenses.

For a really good examination of the issue, look at this story in the Minneapolis Star Tribune by Jennifer Bjorhus. It’s full of detailed analysis and personal stories that illustrate this problem which, it’s safe to say, is playing out with seniors in every community across the United States. Continue reading

New and noteworthy tidbits on the aging beat

Alzheimer’s

Jennifer Robison of the Las Vegas Review-Journal takes an in-depth look at the financial impact of Alzheimer’s on families and programs that might help them bear the expense.

The bottom line: Costs associated with Alzheimer’s, whether for assisted living (which is not covered by Medicare) or in-home assistance (often not covered, also) or respite care (sometimes covered, depending on the state and program), are an enormous, often catastrophic, burden for families.

LGBT aging

Judith GrahamJudith Graham (@judith_graham), AHCJ’s topic leader on aging, is writing blog posts, editing tip sheets and articles and gathering resources to help our members cover the many issues around our aging society.

If you have questions or suggestions for future resources on the topic, please send them to judith@healthjournalism.org.

Jen Christensen of CNN examines the aging of a LGBT (lesbian gay bisexual, transgender) generation that came courageously out of the closet and led the fight for civil rights.

The bottom line: Historically, LGBT have isolated themselves as they’ve aged, re-entering the closet, as it were. Retirement options are slowly improving for this group, due in part to new federal policies.

Medicare

There’s been lots of debate recently over the pros and cons of raising the age of eligibility for Medicare to 67 from 65. Sarah Kliff’s analysis in The Washington Post is a useful addition to a long list of stories on this topic.

The bottom line: The issue has been studied and there’s data out there for journalists to turn to in reporting on this topic. Analysis needs to be fact-based and sophisticated.

End-of-life

A clash between doctors and a family over end-of-life care will come before the Supreme Court of Canada in the next several weeks. In this story, CBC News writes about the painful details of a very difficult case that raises questions of medical futility, religion, and ethics.

The bottom line: The line between what constitutes “killing” and what constitutes “letting die” is not at all clear in some circumstances. Continue reading

Webcast explores aging adults’ contributions, widening disparities, creating ‘synthetic families’

You don’t often hear about how much older adults contribute to society. That’s a shame.

It allows the aging of American to be portrayed as a story of dependency: the reliance of the old upon the young. Instead, the truth is that the generations are inter-dependent, each benefiting the other.

Toni Antonucci
Antonucci

S. Jay Olshansky
Olshansky

Julie M. Zissimopoulos
Zissimopoulos

This was one of the themes articulated during AHCJ’s recent webcast with three members of the MacArthur Network on an Aging Society, a group of prominent academics exploring the opportunities as well as the challenges associated Americans’ increased life spans.

Julie Zissimopoulos, associate director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics at the University of Southern California, described a framework for understanding how much support older adults get and how much they give in turn. (Resources and PowerPoint presentations from the webcast are available here.)

In the “here’s what they get” column, she put government health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, Social Security, benefits from the department of Veterans Affairs, food stamps, programs supported through the Older Americans Act, and informal caregiving, largely from children and spouses, among other smaller items.

Total that up and it comes to $916 billion in public expenditures for older Americans in 2010.

In the “here’s what they give” column, Zissimopoulos included income taxes (federal and state), payroll taxes and property taxes that older adults pay, gifts and inheritances that they pass on to family and friends, the informal care they provide to spouses, elderly parents and children, and the many hours they spend volunteering, among other items.

Total that up and it comes to $646 billion in contributions by older Americans, also in 2010.

The difference, $316 billion, is a lot of money but by no means the enormous, out-of-proportion give-away portrayed by some. And the reality is all of society shares an interest in controlling health care costs, the largest item in the “debit” column for older adults.

Another theme of the web chat revolved around one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century – the extension of the human life span by more than 30 years, largely because of improvements in public health as well as advances in science and medicine. Continue reading