Locals prepare for the silver tsunami
The number of Americans over age 65 in 2000 will have doubled by the year 2030 to 71.5 million people, comprising 20 percent of the population. That is according to a report released Sept. 27, 2006, by the Washington-based National Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Cities and counties are preparing for that “silver tsunami” of retiring baby boomers by taking a closer look at their service needs — including housing, transportation, health, safety and volunteer opportunities — and adding programs and facilities to meet them.
Southborough, Mass., is one of several communities that has begun participating in the state’s senior tax work off program, which helps older adults on fixed incomes meet their rising property tax bills. The program allows seniors to work for the city for minimum wage to pay up to $750 of their property tax bills. “Some years there is a waiting list,” says Town Administrator Jean Kitchen. “Slots are limited because the town has to appropriate that [abatement] money [from the town’s budget] to make up the shortage.” Unless the state expands the amount of reimbursement it offers local governments participating in the program, Kitchens says growing demand could increase the waiting list. The town reviews the program annually and will decide how to deal with an increase in interest when it occurs.
Because many seniors have difficulty keeping up with routine home maintenance, code enforcement violations are sometimes the first indication that a senior might need additional services, says Scottsdale, Ariz., Human Services Director Connie James. Therefore, the city created the Scottsdale Teens On a Mission for Progress (STOMP) program in February 2005, in which teens are hired by the city to perform basic household repairs for elderly residents charged with code violations. Before work starts, a STOMP coordinator and a social worker visit the homeowner to assess other needs, such as home-delivered meals or transportation. The program has resulted in a drop in code citations and an increase in referrals of seniors to the Human Services Department for additional aid, James says.
Seniors also need access to reliable transportation for basic services, says Nicole Heaps, manager of Maumelle, Ark., Senior Services Department. Buses to nearby Little Rock and Conway only run in the morning, so seniors have had to rely on family or costly taxis to get to mid-day doctor appointments. “There definitely was a need,” Heap says. “We were getting increased phone calls about the lack of resources for seniors.”
In response, the city signed a memo of understanding in 2005 with a local non-profit to transport seniors and others when buses are not running. The city provides the vehicles, and the non-profit recruits volunteers, raises funds and insures the volunteer drivers. For 2007, Heaps says the city has expanded its staff to coordinate activities and volunteers, and plans to buy another 13-passenger vehicle.
Also, this month, Maumelle is opening a senior wellness center with a cardiovascular room, treadmills and exercise classes. Swampscott, Mass., officials have plans to build a similar facility. “People are staying younger longer, and so there are changing expectations when it comes to service delivery,” says Town Administrator Andrew Maylor. He says the older population will be increasingly mobile and looking for activities outside of a traditional senior center.
Buncombe County, N.C., officials have begun tracking the progress of the county’s seniors in six service categories — including basic subsistence, health care, life enrichment, long-term care and transportation. The county has identified emerging issues for seniors, such as availability of affordable housing and fuel, complications with the Medicare Part D drug plan, and the need for respite for family caregivers, says Planner Denise Braine.
The results are used as part of the state’s participation in an eight-state initiative of the U.S. Administration on Aging to create a national aging plan that is simple, focused on older-consumers, performance-based and well-coordinated. “When communities plan well for seniors, the continuum of care will be there for them and future generations,” Braine says.
Annie Gentile is a Vernon, Conn.-based freelance writer.