Catch the wave
I can’t tell if Americans are more concerned that baby boomers are coming or going. In either case, they are preparing for them, both in and out of the workplace. Despite the bazillions of dollars spent on diets, hair color, health food and exercise, millions of us are staring point blank at seniorhood, although we have to find our reading glasses before we can actually see it.
For a generation who never trusted anyone over 30, we now will be turning 60 at the rate of one per nanosecond and will reach more than 70 million strong by 2030. The thought of growing hordes of “rock and roll” seniors clutching their blood pressure meds roaming through the countryside in search of Nirvana is enough to cause the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) to ask local governments if they are prepared for us.
The answer, as it turns out, is uh, yeah, sort of. The results of n4a’s survey, “The Maturing of America — Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population,” shows that local governments often lack in 10 key areas.
Relatively inexpensive services — such as community-based health care screenings, fitness programs, volunteer opportunities or systems to find missing seniors with dementia — are available in about two out of three of the surveyed communities. The same number of local governments also are giving tax breaks to older adults on limited incomes.
The study found that the activity garnering the most support was feeding the elderly. Through programs such as Meals on Wheels, most communities (80 percent) deliver food to seniors in their homes. However, only 25 percent of America’s oldest residents are being educated on nutrition.
About 50 percent of the surveyed communities are not addressing transportation issues facing seniors, including a lack of access to dial-a-ride or door-through-door programs. Even fewer local governments (40 percent) report using road signs designed for older drivers. Also, half of the communities offer no assistance to physically disabled seniors who want to modify their homes so they can continue living there.
And, despite the fear that seniors will be quitting their jobs in record numbers, only 60 percent of survey respondents have job training or retraining programs. The final irony is that older adults often do not have a single source of information to refer to, and therefore, cannot easily determine the availability of the services they need.
Generally, the n4a’s survey — which included assistance from the International City/County Management Association, the National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and Partners for Livable Communities — found that only 46 percent of American communities have begun to address the aging boomers’ needs. n4a’s CEO Sandy Markwood calls the report, “a wake up call,” and indeed it is, not only for local governments but for those still young enough to prepare for their own futures.
As for us boomers, who were told by our parents that we could do anything, we still want to be viable members of our community. And as we age, we trust that in exchange, we’ll get by with a little help from our friends.