National Edition

To survive, thrive as USA ages, communities must do 5 things

Published: Wednesday, July 31 2013 9:15 a.m. MDT

June Springer, sits at her desk, where she works at Caffi Contracting Services, Friday, July 12, 2013 in Alexandria, Va. Springer who just turned 90, works as a receptionist. People who delay retirement have less risk of developing Alzheimer's disease or other types of dementia, a study of half a million people in France found. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Alex Brandon, AP

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To survive and even thrive as the elderly population doubles in coming decades, there are five things American communities simply have to do. Hot-button issues include housing, transportation, health care, keeping senior citizens engaged and caregiving.

The population of those 65 and older is expected to more than double in the next 50 years. Creating the infrastructure to ensure that they are able to lead fulfilling lives needs to start early, experts say.

"As fiscal issues strain budgets at every level of government, the trick will be finding the dollars necessary to not just meet the growing entitlement needs of Social Security and Medicare — which in fiscal 2012 alone cost more than $1.2 trillion, just over a third of the entire federal budget — but also the untold billions that will be required in other areas of seniors' lives. Despite some pockets of progress, demographers and aging experts say the USA is 'hugely behind' in readying for the onslaught of aging adults, fueled by the 76.4 million-member Baby Boom generation, born from 1946 to 1964," wrote Sharon Jayson in a USA Today article.

She said getting the five issues tackled isn't easy because Americans don't like to "dwell on getting old," and they are already hampered by the dicey economy, which has strained government budgets.

They identified the areas in a survey that was a collaboration of the National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and the national newspaper. It identified deficits in planning, job opportunities, transportation and other problems that will need to be addressed.

According to U.S. Census projections, "the population age 65 and older is expected to more than double between 2012 and 2060, from 43.1 million to 92.0 million. The older population would represent just over one in five U.S. residents by the end of the period, up from one in seven today. The increase in the number of the “oldest old” would be even more dramatic — those 85 and older are projected to more than triple from 5.9 million to 18.2 million, reaching 4.3 percent of the total population."

Right now, baby boomers account for one-fourth of the population. By 2060, when the youngest boomer would be 96 years old, they will number more than 2 million and be a small portion of the population — about 0.6 percent of the total, according to Census projections. The nation's population then is expected to be around 420 million.

A report in the National Journal says the population is going to grow more slowly, skew older and be more diverse. America won't be alone in that pattern, either. Europe's population is aging. And a report in the Guardian recently noted that Japan's population is expected to shrink overall by 30 percent and skew much older by 2060.

Other organizations have also noted the shifting demographics and the measures that will be needed to allow senior citizens full access to high quality lives within their communities. A fact sheet on transportation prepared by AARP says, "Older adults who wish to age in place must be able to meet their daily needs outside the home even if they cannot or choose not to drive. Safe, affordable, and accessible transportation options are essential for older adults to run errands, go to the doctor, or visit friends and family. Without such options, an older adult might either have to prematurely move to a supported housing arrangement or become increasingly dependent on family and friends for assistance."

Federal, state and local governments are all talking about the numbers and considering how they will address them. Gerontology courses at universities nationwide are also teaching future planners about the needs. For instance, a class at the University of Southern California says the main housing issues for senior citizens — and thus their families and communities — are affordability, condition, overcrowding, suitability, neighborhood and the limit to housing options for those who are frail.

EMAIL: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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