Our Thoughts

From Serving Iowa Elders for Over 20 Years

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Hobbies are important to our mental health throughout our lifetime.

In this section we will feature senior citizens and their hobbies.

Some people pursue new interests and activities when they have more time once they have retired from their full-time job.

Some people’s hobbies have been a part of their life throughout their lifespan and they continue to enjoy them after the age of 60.

The first senior citizen and his hobbies fall into the latter situation.  He is a collector that has been collecting all of his life.  Coin collecting is something that he started when he was young and continues to enjoy even now, many decades later.



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Who is Old?

I have been searching for the meaning of the term defining “elderly person.” I wanted a consistent, well-defined term to use when discussing issues affecting the elderly in this blog. Instead I found a quagmire of ambiguous words and/or phrases that refer to the state of being “elderly” but do not give a specific enough definition to help clarify whom we as a society (or I as writer of a blog) are referring to when we discuss older people and issues affecting them.

Possible Words and Phrases Used Commonly Are:

Senior Citizen
Elderly Person
Retired Person
Older Adult

This list is problematic in many ways. It contains words and phrases that cannot be precisely defined, are open to many interpretations, and include comparisons to nebulously defined terms. Finally, the words on this list attempt to define being older based upon three extremely different measures: 1.) Comparison to the definitions of other words 2.) References to the individual’s relationship to the workforce 3.) References to the individual’s chronological age. Thus, instead of clarifying what it means to be old, these words and phrases complicate the discussion.

Let’s look at each of these complications to identifying a precise definition for the elderly person:

1. These words and phrases are open to many interpretations.

Most of these words are adjectives, not nouns. Even many of the nouns — Senior Citizen and Elderly Person — contain adjectives. Adjectives, by their nature, are subjective and not precise in nature. For instance, “old” is a relative word….What is “old?” Is it something from your grandmother’s era, from last year’s fashions, or from the Mesozoic Age? Items from all of these times could be called “old” but their true “ numerical age” is vastly different. The subjectivity of these words is in relation to other words. For example, something is “older” because it is “older” than something else. “Older” does not tell you the actual age. To add to the confusion, the “thing” to which “older” is being compared usually is not stated.

2. Some of these words and phrases only refers to a person’s relationship to work.

These are the words “Pensioner,” “Retiree,” and “Retired Persons.” As a society we sometimes make a judgement that being old means not participating in paid employment. Not participating in the work force can be due to positive reasons such as saving enough money to retire at an “acceptable” level of lifestyle. It can be due to negative reasons such as having a medical condition that stops a person from continuing to do his/her previous work. Thus, these words also are ambiguous and non-helpful in defining being “elderly.”

3. Some of these words only refer to an individual’s age.

It seems that when an entity such as a government or an organization defines “elderly,” it uses actual numerical age as the defining factor. Government entities such as the Center for Disease Control and the World Health Organization define “aged” in terms of numerical age when doing research or stating statistics. As numerical age is a well-defined, fixed term, the words and phrases for old based on numerical age should be the answer to our search for a consistent definition of old. But these words are still problematic. This is because different numerical ages for being old are used based upon the country or topic being researched or discussed. These ages range from 50 to age 65 as the cut off between “younger” and “older.”

Many organizations find that their chosen numerical age for being old is not specific enough because it only marks an age when old age starts. They seem to all assume that old age ends at death. This means individuals will vary in how long their “old age” lifespan is. Organizations and governments recognize that there is a huge time span between age 50 and age 116 (the oldest person recorded alive in 2016). Thus some organizations split the “elderly” into two groups depending on their numerical age…the old (being 50, 55, 60, or 65 years and older) and the oldest old (being 80 and over in years). This again complicates the discussion about aging.

A widely accepted numerical age that has been used for many years to distinguish being old from being young in the United States is the year which Americans can draw Social Security checks from the Federal Government. Using this numerical age is problematic also. The United States government originally chose the age 65 as the age the when Americans can draw a Social Security check but as Americans are living longer, the US government decided that this numerical age is too low. The Social Security Administration has administered a complicated step process where the retirement age for Americans rises every so many months depending upon the age in which a person is born. This makes even Social Security eligibility an ambiguous and moving number for the sake of the definition of being “old” in the United States.

What Conclusions Can Be Made:

There is no definitive word that means to be “old” and there is no agreement of when someone becomes “aged.” There are a quagmire of terms and varied numerical ages commonly used. Being older means different things to different people under different circumstances. Fortunately and unfortunately those circumstances are as varied and nebulous as the definition of old age. This helps explain why we have trouble grappling with “elderly” issues. It shows why it so hard to define the needs of the world’s “elderly” “retirees.” We can not even agree to whom we are referring. “Who is old?” is a question with many answers depending upon many variables. This is an unsatisfactory end to my quest for clarity but it appears to be the reality.

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What Does It Mean to Be a Senior Citizen?

As geriatric social workers, we notice that there are certain times in a person’s life when he/she begins to contemplate this question:

*When one is approaching a significant birthday
*When someone feels ill and/or disabled
*When a person assumes the care of a senior citizen
*When one’s own parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and/or neighbors become senior citizens
*When a student has an assignment for school about senior citizens
*When someone gets a job working with seniors
*When someone approaches retirement

So, what is the definition of a senior citizen? Who is a senior?

These two questions are easily answered by an unhelpful but true statement, “It depends.”

It depends upon how you as an individual define it or how your employer defines it or how your government defines it or how a business defines it, etc. Thus, the answer to “Who is a senior?” is as varied as the individuals and/or entities asking and defining the answers. This begs another set of questions that need to be explored in this discussion of what it means to be a senior citizen:

Who is defining this period of time in our life, how are they defining it, and why are they defining it?

Who? The answer to this question is huge and probably never-ending. A few entities and individuals come to mind, including:

*American Association of Retired People
*Life Insurance Companies
*Health Insurance Companies
*The World Health Organization
*The US Department of Health and Human Services
*The Department of Medicare/Medicaid
*Retirement Communities
*Travel Agencies/Cruise Lines
*Car Insurance Companies
*Our employers
*Financial Institutions
*US Department of Revenue
*Our children
*Our religious institutions
*Physicians and other medical providers
*Our neighbors
*Our extended family members

How is senior citizen defined?

Is it defined by age? Is it defined by our work history or retirement? It is defined by our physical ability or disability? Is it defined by our monetary worth as an employee? Is it defined as our productive worth as an employee? Is it defined by our relationship to others that are younger in our family and/or community? Is it defined by our mental abilities or disabilities?

Asking, “How is senior citizen defined?” really starts to get at the “meat” of the definition of being a senior citizen and accentuates the problem with defining this period of life. We, as social workers working primarily with senior citizens, find that definitions of being a senior citizen change throughout their lives. This definition changes depending upon the age of the person, the physical and/or mental capabilities of the person, the employment status of the person, the mental health of the person, the life experiences of the person, and the expectations of life for the future of each individual.

Why is senior citizenship being defined? Is it being defined in order to classify a group of people for a study? Is the definition used to exclude or include certain people for housing, government programs, or reduced rates at businesses? Is the definition used to determine rates for insurance? Is the definition used by an individual to access whether he/she should be capable of doing certain activities? There are many reasons why the image of “senior years” is defined. It is important to understand the reasons why the definition is being created while considering the definition.

As discussed today, the definition of being a senior citizen is complex and varied. As expected there is no one right answer to this question. The answers are as varied as the reasons for asking the question. We hope that this discussion will stimulate you, our readers, to think about your own definition of what it means to be a senior. Please feel free to share your thoughts about this subject and your personal definition of senior citizenship in our comments section. This discussion will start out fairly academic but quickly morph into talking about how “academic” and “official” definitions of being a senior citizen affects our personal expectations, stereotypes, fears, concerns, and planning for this period in our life.

In the next blog, we will explore some of the definitions of senior citizen that exist currently.

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Planning our Blog Topics Together: What do we know that would be worth your time?

We are writing this blog together riding in a car on I-80E returning to Des Moines, IA on a Saturday in January in 2015 discussing our ideas for our blogs. After 20 years of case managing many elders, some of who are still on our case load 20 years later, we think we have knowledge that we should share. Mary Alice has started some drafts on ethical issues and Pamela is thinking about various definitions of being a senior.

Why do we think we know anything? What makes our thoughts worth your time to read?

We think we do a pretty good job at what we do but most everyone thinks they do a good job. We hear our clients and their families tell us we do a good job but due to confidentiality we can’t give you specific names of our “happy customers.” We both have masters degrees in social work and have been working in the field of social work for over 20 years but many other social workers can state this. Our business, Elder Concerns, L.C. has been around for over 20 years but many businesses have longevity. We bend over backwards to give assist our clients in living well but again due to confidentiality we can’t give you details.

So what can we tell you to “prove our worth.” We think the above paragraph almost says it all. We are highly educated in our field our business has been around a long time doing the same type of work, we have worked specifically for over 20 yeas and we have successfully helped many elders and their families over this time. We are licensed in Iowa at the highest level for social workers and we continue to stay abreast on elder issues.

We frequently get phone calls from seniors and/or family asking, “What do you do?”
This is a difficult question to answer. Our working theory model of business is to listen to what our client wants, look at the situation (assessment), and then assist the client to sort out what’s important and how to make it happen.

But that still doesn’t give you any particulars. When our inquiring callers ask, “So what do you do? We say, “We do what the client needs.” “We think of ourselves as geriatric problem-solvers.” The caller then asks what problems do you solve? What client needs do you do address?

We really don’t intend to be evasive or frustrating. We tend to prefer to start a conversation of their specific situation and concerns.

So we will try in this blog to give examples of various activities that we have done over the years to help our clients. These activities do not limit us in anyway from carrying out different activities in the future for others.

We’ve done something different for every client we’ve had. The list of our possible job duties is as long as there are variations in our clients and their needs.

Now we believe you are thinking, “Quit the mumbo jumbo you two and give us readers specifics.”

We have:

*helped doctors listen to the patient
*coordinated moves
*arranged, transported and accompanied people to the Mayo Clinic, Creighton University Clinics, and the University of Iowa Clinics for second opinions
*relayed data between medical care providers
*facilitated the patient’s ability to comply with medical instructions
*set mousetraps
*explained and/or remind clients why they are doing what the doctor ordered
*helped clients understand their medical conditions
*helped clients understand their choices and options
*helped clients keep bills paid
*kept track of client’s appointments
*transported clients to routine appointments and contributed to the appointment discussion if needed
*helped clients send birthday cards to family and friends
*helped clients sort mail
*communicated with the client’s family with client’s permission.
*assisted clients in managing their businesses
*assisted clients in organizing investments
*assisted clients in describing symptoms and providing clues to medical providers in order to get the most accurate diagnosis
*planned funerals
*celebrated birthdays
*helped people plan and understand placement options
*helped hospital and nursing home patients understand their rights
*assisted clients in understanding their insurance benefits
*helped clients find medical providers

Some people request a formal assessment report. Whether we draft a report or not, our thought processes cover all the areas of a formal interdisciplinary assessment, including but not limited to:
*emotional health
*spiritual health
*medical health
*physical health
*mental health
*family and social relationships
*activities of daily living
*general quality of life
*specific care needs

So, here we go…..attempting to share our experiences and ideas with you, our readers, in our upcoming blogs. Please feel free to comment, question, or disagree with our “wisdom.”

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An Introduction to Elder Concerns, L.C. Blogging Styles and Formats

As any reader will soon notice, Mary Alice and I (Pamela) have different opinions, writing styles, reading habits, and movie and television watching norms.  Our strengths and weaknesses are different and we feel that we work together and complement each other well.  Our likes and dislikes in the work environment are also very different.  All of these differences will show up as we begin to really put time and energy into this blog site.  Hopefully you as the reader will like seeing the differences between us and our unique perspectives on the world in which we live and how that impacts our lives as we grow older.  We enjoy working with each other and with the clients that we serve.  We also enjoy other activities in life and will share those enjoyments with you in these posts.  I also predict that you will be able to read about our disappointments in the services, systems, and opportunities available to seniors and how we hope that these negative aspects of being a senior can be changed for the better.  Stay tuned for our blogs as we hope to be informative, uplifting, and/or thought-provoking about life as a senior in Iowa.

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Elder Concerns, L.C. Presents elderinterests.wordpress.com

Elder Concerns, L.C. is a small, private, geriatric care agency located in Des Moines, IA which has provided master’s level social work case management of Iowa seniors for 20 years.  Elder Concerns, L.C. is owned an operated by a single individual, Mary Alice Butler, a master’s level licensed social worker who has dedicated the last 20 years of her life to making life better for Iowa seniors.  She also employs another master’s level social worker, Pamela Nelson-Grotrian who has worked with her approximately 16 years of the 20 years she has been operating Elder Concerns, L.C.

To celebrate our 20 years in business, we are attempting to utilize digital media to help seniors and their families navigate the myriad of needs, concerns, interests, and services that confront them for the first time in their lives.  Being a senior can be wonderful.  It can also, like any other life stage, be a bit overwhelming.  It is too bad that there is no road map to life’s questions.  We would all like to feel like we know where we are going throughout life.  But, needless to say, life is not that easily figured out.  Being an elder is the same as any other “stage” in life.  As you’ve never been there before, everything is new, nothing is familiar, and the choices either seem endless or appear as if you have entered a dead end street.  We at Elder Concerns, L.C. haven’t entered the stage of life called “elderly,” “senior,” or “aged” but we have traveled along the paths of some remarkable seniors in our 20 years of business serving the elderly and we would like to share our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, and insights with you.  We feel that we have much to share with today’s seniors, their friends, and their families and we hope that you, our readers, get some tidbit of knowledge or slice or wisdom (or just laugh at our screw-ups) from our experiences and opinions.

We are planning to have this blog contain many different types of articles.  We want to share concrete services that we know exist.  We want to share advice about searching for help and services for seniors.  We want to state that being a senior does not need to be all “concerns and worries” and as such will share ideas about activities and opportunities unique to elders.  We plan to share our favorite books and movies.  We plan to talk about opportunities for personal growth as a senior and how best to watch for scams of all types.  We are excited about this blog and hope that you become “interested” in elder topics and join us regularly.

We also want to say that this is our first time blogging online; that even as we are experienced working with seniors, this is the first time that we’ve ventured into web development.  We have a website that has remained static for years.  We plan to link this blog page to our website and begin to shape our website into something that reflects the current ability of computer media to talk about our business.  Thus, we hope that you forgive our technological blunders as we attempt to get our views to you.

For those interested in who we are and what our business is..our website is www.elderconcerns.com