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Sunday, Sep. 21, 2014

Life for senior citizens getting better

Thursday, March 24, 2005

(Photo)
Berniece George and her 9-year-old daugher Hannah Sauceda, work on a jigsaw puzzle together.
SIKESTON -- Marie Yeakey admitted she isn't spending her spring break at some vacation spot this week.

But these days it's not at all uncommon for senior citizens to take a quick getaway.

Instead the 87-year-old foster grandmother at Southeast Elementary School said she's using the time to catch up on housework such as washing and ironing her clothes.

"It gets tiresome just sitting here watching television," Ms. Yeakey said.

According to Ruth Dockins, public information officer for the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging, life is getting better for senior citizens.

"Seniors are living longer and many of them are staying healthier than they used to be and are stronger than they were," Dockins said.

The average life span right now is 77.6 years; in the 1900s it was 42, Dockins said.

And the average 60-year-old is stronger and in better health and more able than back in the 1950s, Dockins noted.

"They like to be out and to be able to work and travel and have their independence as long as they possibly can," Dockins said.

Many people today are perfectly independent up until their 80s and 90s, Dockins said. And part of that is due to services that help people stay in homes as long as possible, she said.

In addition, medication is better, and as a general rule, the average person doesn't have to work as hard as they did years ago either, Dockins said.

"We don't wash our clothes with a scrub board anymore and farmers don't have to hook up a horse and walk behind the plow. All of the inventions have made life easier for all of us," Dockins said.

Dockins pointed out senior citizens in their 70s and older are still doing volunteer work. Several of the popular programs for senior citizens include: Senior Companion Program, Foster Grandparents, Ombudsmen and the Retired Senior Volunteer Program.

Although most people want to stay in their homes as long as possible, nursing homes have also changed over the past 50 years, Dockins noted. Activity directors help keep residents entertained and stay on their medicines. "The more activities you do, it enhances their ability to stay active longer," said Kay Hanks, activity director at Hunter Acres Caring Center.

Although Hanks said the Center's residents do physical exercises, they also do other activities -- some that aren't as traditional.

"We have a nonalcoholic happy hour. It's like a scene you'd see at Applebee's or something. We make mixed drinks out of nonalcoholic mixes and they get extra smokes and sit around. They love it," Hanks said.

Other places like the OAKS Senior Center in Sikeston offer bingo and cards and is currently trying to start up a crafts session.

"It's very important for seniors to maintain contact with the outside world," Dockins said.

If senior citizens do see depression coming on, there are medicines available that will make them feel better, Dockins said.

So as people grow older, it's very important they keep their minds active, Dockins said.

"They need to do more than sit in a chair and watch TV and focus on the outward rather than the inward," Dockins said.

Some ways to keep minds active include working jigsaw puzzles and crossword puzzles, reading a book or magazine, going for a walk and anything to stimulate the mind.

"Activity will open the blood vessels and reading and working puzzles and doing things that are just a little bit harder than you want it to be will help," Dockins said. "You should think about things that aren't something you can do automatically."

Meanwhile Ms. Yeakey said working with the children at Southeast Elementary gives her plenty to do, and as her 88th birthday approaches in a couple of months, she said she plans to volunteer as a foster grandmother as long as she can.

"I love the kids and you get so attached to them -- they feel like yours only," Ms. Yeakey said. "It keeps you busy."