By Maureen Forman

There are many factors about depression in seniors. The causes most often cited are death of friends and family, physical illness, declining mental acuity. Not often enough are chronic poverty and the isolation that accompanies it given the attention they deserve as sources of senior depression.

There is a firmly held belief that with the creation of Social Security and Medicare, senior poverty was effectively eliminated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Many seniors receive less than $1000 a month in Social Security and often have to pay part of that toward Medicare benefits. Although they can apply  for Medicaid/MediCal as a supplement to cover what Medicare doesn’t, the income and savings allowed on Medical are so  low that it effectively  leaves the person with no reserves for emergencies such as a a broken stove or an expensive medication not on the Medical formulary. And they are always vulnerable to losing their MediCal  if they are given any financial assistance from children or family or if they move in with their family, whose income can then become part of their qualifying information.

These are seniors that worked all their lives worked as waitresses, truck drivers, in car repair or sales, as housecleaners or even women who simply stayed home to raise their children at a time when one income could support a family. 

In order to get by, these seniors live in section 8 apartments (if they are lucky enough to get them) or in small mobile home parks. They often have no vehicles due to not being able to afford gas or upkeep. They ride the bus or use Dial a Ride for trips to the doctors. They do not have money to go to dinner with friends, play golf or to travel. So they often isolate in their homes and watch television. Perhaps they meet friends at a senior center once or twice a week or get morning coffee at the community room of the apartment house. They shop at 99c store and eat far too many salty canned or frozen foods.

So how can we help? Give to your local Senior Center, your local foodbank, any agency that serves seniors. JFS has funding to help seniors in financial crisis and programs to decrease isolation. And when you get a chance, chat with the senior next to you in line or at the doctors. Let then tell you about their wonderful lives. You won’t regret it.