Austerity Measures Taking a Big Toll on Seniors

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Government cutbacks are creating a growing number of seniors who live in povertyIn the wake of the recent financial collapse, governments in both the U.S. and Europe have instituted drastic spending cuts to try and pull the reeling economy back from the abyss. As a result of these cuts, startling statistics are beginning to trickle in.

The latest report out of the U.S. by the Kaiser Family Foundation shows that one in seven seniors are now living in poverty. The number is even higher in the states of California, Georgia, New York, and Nevada, where one in five seniors lives in poverty. To give some perspective on what this actually means, the U.S. Census Bureau Poverty Threshold for seniors was tapped at $10,788 in 2011. According to the Kaiser report, 34% of seniors live below that poverty threshold. And with the government considering further cuts to Medicare and Social Security over the next couple of years, the numbers will only get higher.

What sort of toll is this taking on the health of seniors? In many instances it has been devastating. There has been a rise in health problems. Suicides have gone up as people are filled with despair and cannot afford to pay basic rent.

For many, living in poverty is directly linked to the cost of health care. It’s no secret that seniors often suffer from the most health complaints—many of them serious. Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and cancer can all strike those who are over the age of 65. It’s estimated that 96% of seniors living in poverty suffer from at least one of these health conditions. Paying for health care to manage such diseases is often an insurmountable task. One report estimates that a 65-year-old couple will need $240,000 to cover their medical expenses after retirement.

Anxiety is often a daily companion for those living at or below poverty thresholds while trying to deal with health issues. Mental health problems are on the rise and many seniors simply don’t have access to services that can help them.

MORE: Why obesity rises among the poor

In Europe, the situation is even worse. There, the financial crisis is causing health problems for the young and old alike. Many of these health issues were completely unpredicted. No one realized that HIV infection rates would skyrocket, for example. Nor did anyone expect the rate of infectious diseases to suddenly climb. Combined with these alarming trends is the fact that budget cuts have prevented many people from getting basic health care.

What can be done to help seniors who have a right to live in comfort and care as they age? First of all, governments need to opt for cutbacks that don’t devastate the health of their oldest citizens.

Next, citizens can rally and adopt a grassroots program aimed at minimizing the effects of poverty. This is being done in the U.K. right now, where volunteers are running community-based services. Lunches and dinners are being cooked up and offered to seniors. Social support networks are alive and well through the innovation and hard work of people who care. Even attending a simple game of cards can help ease the burdens of poverty. Social activities like this get seniors talking and sharing their concerns.

In times of financial difficulties, isolation can be a huge barrier to keeping healthy. If you’re a senior who is doing alright, invest a little time to reach out to those who are stranded in apartments and homes with no money and no food. These are the people who are most vulnerable and who need to be brought into the community and cared for.

Source(s) for Today’s Article:
“What are poverty thresholds and poverty guidelines?” Institute for Research on Poverty, University of Wisconsin website,, accessed online May 21, 2013.
Levinson, Z., et al., “A State-by-State Snapshot of Poverty Among Seniors: Findings From Analysis of the Supplemental Poverty Measure,” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation web site, May 20, 2013;, last accessed May 21, 2013.
Karanikolos, M., et al., “Financial crisis, austerity, and health in Europe,” Lancet.April 13, 2013;381(9874):1323-31.

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Dr. Richard Foxx, MD

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Richard M. Foxx, MD has decades of medical experience with a comprehensive background in endocrinology, aesthetic and laser medicine, gynecology, and sports medicine. He has extensive experience with professional athletes, including several Olympic competitors. Dr. Foxx practices aesthetic and laser medicine, integrative medicine, and anti-aging medicine. He is the founder and Medical Director of the Medical and Skin Spa located in Indian Wells, California, at the Hyatt Regency Resort. Dr. Foxx is certified by the National Board of Medical Examiners... Read Full Bio »