By Shelley Hoss
Published in the Orange County Register on May 27, 2013
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Issues arise as population of older adults expands at a rapid rate.
The baby boom generation has defined life in the U.S. since just past World War II. If we are not part of it ourselves, we’ve likely come directly before or after. And since the boomers began to arrive, they have dominated in numbers that far surpass any other generation. The first wave of boomers now reaching age 65 represents the trickle before the deluge. The numbers of the aging population across the country are staggering.
According to a USA Today article, “10 Ways Baby Boomers Will Reinvent Retirement,” the number of adults 65 and older will more than double from 39 million today to 89 million by 2050. If 37 years seems too far away, here are some more immediate numbers from the Orange County Office on Aging: By 2020 there will be more than 75 million adults age 60 or older in the U.S.—representing an increase of 52% since 2005. Orange County is aging even more rapidly, with an expected increase of 64 percent in its older adult population by 2020.
“Orange County is home to 838,000 baby boomers who began turning 65 in 2011,” says Todd Hanson, vice president of donor and community engagement for the Orange County Community Foundation. “This ‘silver tsunami’ will cause a significant impact on the county, and we need to be prepared to meet the needs of this burgeoning population.”
Though today’s older adults are often healthier and more active than previous generations, a fundamental gap between their needs and the resources required to sustain them through the rest of their lives looms as an impending crisis, further exacerbated by the financial challenges of the past several years.
“With vulnerable older adults on a fixed income, one shift in the economy can greatly affect their most basic needs,” says Hanson. “For instance, if gas prices go up, their budget for essentials like food and medicine can be put at risk. And setbacks to retirement plans and other financial safeguards will heighten the vulnerability for an even greater number of older adults.”
Older adults with chronic health conditions are at even greater risk due to limited mobility and diminished quality of life. Lack of proper care can compound the issues not just for individuals and families, but also for entire communities. For instance, it is projected that the prevalence of Alzheimer’s and dementia will nearly quadruple in the next 35 years, when approximately 1 in 45 Americans will be afflicted with the disease, according to the American Journal of Public Health. Caring for these individuals will be a huge strain on the healthcare system.
“Helping this population age with dignity and grace is key,” says Hanson. “Older adults fare so much better when connected to friends, family and activities, but it’s a huge challenge in Orange County, where children and grandchildren often leave the area due to the high cost of housing. Vulnerable older adults can easily become isolated, placing them at risk on a number of fronts.”
This is an issue that affects all of us.
According to the Council on Aging Orange County, there are 28,000 frail elderly in long-term residential care in O.C., approximately half of whom are alone, with no one to advocate for them. For these vulnerable seniors, the Council’s Ombudsman Program ensures that that their rights are protected and they are receiving the quality of long-term care they need. It's one of many programs in place to help move the needle, but many more are needed.
Alzheimer's Family Services Center in Huntington Beach is also helping to lead the way. It offers expert assistance, including day services and caregiver and education programs, to every family member dealing with this devastating issue—one that invariably requires long-term care and support.
“Orange County has exemplary professionals and agencies dedicated to serving seniors,” notes Dr. Cordula Dick-Muehlke, director of education at the UCI Institute of Memory Impairments and Neurological Disorders, and former executive director of Alzheimer’s Family Services Center.
“But, unfortunately, it’s not enough to even meet just basic nutrition, housing and transportation needs of our seniors today, and it certainly won’t be enough tomorrow," she adds. "We have a responsibility to ensure that no matter what a senior’s life circumstances, our vulnerable older adults are able to age with dignity, have access to basic services, and are free from risks such as elder abuse.”
To learn more about ways these nonprofits are supporting older adults and their families, visit the Council on Aging Orange County website at www.coaoc.org or Alzheimer's Family Services Center at www.afscenter.org.
To learn about other community needs, visit www.ConnectOC.org.
Shelley Hoss is president of the Orange County Community Foundation.
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