In this Q&A article, we engage in a conversation with Dr. Mary L. Flett, a distinguished psychologist, life coach, writer, geriatric care manager, and advocate for aging adults. With her extensive experience spanning over three decades, Dr. Flett provides valuable insights into the impending challenges of aging, access to senior care, and the societal value system concerning older adults.
Q: Mary, you’ve highlighted the issue of scarcity of senior housing. Can you elaborate on this concern and why it’s significant?
A: The scarcity of elder housing, especially affordable options, is a pressing concern because there’s an inadequate supply of housing adapted to meet the needs of aging adults. Housing isn’t limited to congregate settings (think Cogir), or assisted living settings. Keeping people in their preferred home setting, in the community is key to the health (emotional and physical) of all inhabitants across the lifespan. Ageism, or the negative stereotypes and discrimination against older adults, compounds this issue by often dismissing or minimizing the needs of our aging population.
Q: What’s one of the most concerning predictable issues related to aging adults that we aren’t addressing?
A: Let’s consider the state of Florida, currently one of the most popular states for aging adults and retirees. Due to climate change, in the next 10 years, it will be increasingly vulnerable to sea-level rise . The consequence of this is many older Americans will be forced to move, not because they want to, but because they have to. As a result, large numbers of folks will be needing new housing in different parts of the country that may not have adequate infrastructure to meet the special needs of this population. For example, physician groups and other treatment providers may not be available to meet demand. Housing and transportation accommodations will need upgrading. These, however, are done on a local basis, not national. If a community is not anticipating these changes, systems will be quickly overwhelmed and those in need of care will have to find alternative means of obtaining support.
Q: You mentioned ageism. How do you perceive our cultural value system concerning older adults, and how does ageism impact it?
A: Our cultural value system is riddled with ageism. There’s often a general undertone that “old people” aren’t worth helping or investing in. This negative bias against older adults leads to a lack of prioritization for their needs in both social and political contexts, making it more challenging to address the impending challenges of an aging society.
Q: As an Independent Care Manager and advocate for aging adults, what’s the biggest challenge related to accessing support and resources for older adults?
A: The most significant challenge is that people often don’t fully understand their needs, but they do have some awareness of the available resources. For instance, aging adults often complain about the complexity of Medicare and Medicare Advantage. Personally, I am not a fan of Medicare Advantage. I call it “Medicare Disadvantage” Sadly, the insurance industry is over-selling a product that works great if you are healthy, but proves woefully inadequate if you are experiencing increased need for health care services.
Q: Can you provide insights into organizations that are advocating for aging adults and the support they offer?
A: AARP, plays a vital role both nationally and on the state level in advocating for aging adults. There are opportunities for older Americans to volunteer with AARP through their local state offices. In terms of support, most folks are familiar with AARP through their insurance programs and their publications. But AARP is also recognized as a prominent voice in Congress and in local and state governments in addressing the needs for livable communities across the lifespan.
AARP’s current initiative focuses on supporting caregivers, addressing financial insecurity, and addressing equity in health care. These broad categories have their origins in the World Health Organization’s Elder-Friendly Communities, which reflects the world-wide awareness of the importance of valuing aging adults, no matter where we live.
Dr. Mary L. Flett’s extensive experience and passion for advocating for aging adults provide valuable insights into the multifaceted issues surrounding aging, ageism, and the need for proactive solutions to ensure a better quality of life for our aging population.