Sitting at the table, writing this column, any sudden twist of the body sends a sharp pain from my lower left back up through my shoulder. We’re at camp, a long way from my chiropractor, so it’s grin-and-bear-it time.
As I get older, it’s a good day if I wake up in the morning without a new ache or pain. On Sunday morning, July 21, I encountered a new type of pain. Call it the pain of realizing you are not getting old, you are old. And you are ill-prepared, like most Mainers.
The newspaper’s in-depth report that day titled, “The challenge of our age: The Oldest State,” was aptly named. It could have been called the challenge of our old age. Lead reporter Kelly Bouchard did a superb job of outlining the problems facing us here in Maine, and putting real faces on those problems.
As the paper’s editorial that day noted, “We are not only the state with the highest median age in the nation (43.5), but after Florida, Maine also has the second highest proportion of people age 65 and older.”
Bouchard reported that one in three Maine seniors depends entirely on Social Security, the state needs 80,000 more housing units for seniors in the next couple of years and a looming crisis looms in the shortage of nursing home beds and assisted-living centers (one in every seven of us will suffer Alzheimer’s disease). And that’s only a fraction of the items on Bouchard’s crisis list.
In some ways, this is also a problem of young people. We don’t have enough of them to fuel our economy or take care of us. Maine has the lowest percentage of people between the ages of 15 and 44 in the nation.
Bouchard’s stories are loaded with alarming facts and statistics, but it is more than that to me. This is personal. On Oct. 15, I will celebrate my 65th birthday. Celebrate may be the wrong word. Because on that day, I can no longer pretend that I am not a senior citizen.
Senior citizenship brings with it a lot of worries, from finances to health. I’ve been bombarded with questions, confused as I sought answers, uncertain about the many steps I must take before Oct. 15 arrives.
Should I begin to take Social Security? Lots of study seems to indicate that, as long as I’m still working and don’t need it, I should postpone this. One decision made.
Health care and insurance have been much more difficult to figure out. At age 65, I’ll be kicked off my current health insurance plan and forced to move to Medicare and some kind of supplemental insurance.
I’ve had lots of help with this important decision, with information arriving every week from Charles Schwab, MaineGeneral Health, Lincoln Financial Group, Pacific Health, Prudential, Edward Jones, AARP, Anthem, the U.S. government and others.
Last week, an unsolicited call from an insurance agent in Bangor was actually quite helpful, as he answered some of my questions and provided advice about the steps I should take immediately, such as alerting Social Security to the fact I will not be taking Social Security checks and will be needing a Medicare card.
He took me through the various options for supplemental insurance including basic health care, medications and long-term care.
Next week, I’ll consult with my 90-year-old Dad and my brother Gordon, who helped Dad make these decisions.
But it’s all very scary. I told a fellow at Schwab that my only real serious concern is a major health problem that would wipe out our life’s savings and retirement funds. Apparently, there is no solution for that situation, other than poverty and despair.
Every element of Bouchard’s report touched a nerve. Two of our three children live and work out-of-state. Son Josh and daughter-in-law Kelly would like to move to Maine, but cannot not find jobs to match those they enjoy in Massachusetts. Which comes first: the jobs or the young people?
It’s surprisingly easy to be paranoid. I can’t remember that fellow’s name. Alzheimer’s? A couple months ago, I felt a bubble in my left ear. Going deaf? A doctor found my hearing to be extraordinarily good.
This morning, I can sit quietly with an ice pack and escape the lower back pain. But there is no way to escape the pain, confusion and worry about getting old.
George Smith is a writer and TV talk show host. He can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or georgesmith [email protected] Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.