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Jeff Rubin: Consequences of inaction in addressing Kentucky’s ageing population is an age-old problem

For several years now, I’ve been writing about and speaking to the demographic shift taking place in Kentucky, and the dangers inherent in the consequences of public inaction. The rapid growth in our aging population (20% of Kentucky’s population is now 60 or older) and those living longer (85-plus is the fastest growing age group) should give those in elective office reason for pause. Yet an outcry to take action, and leadership to sound the alarm is sorely lacking. In fact, the silence is deafening. There are many reasons for the apathy.

A predisposition for glorifying youth while demeaning old age, the fear of discrimination in in the workplace or at home, the risk of being labeled, stereotyped, or ignored all contribute to the lack of meaningful conversation today, while ignoring the consequences of our inaction.

Denial of our own aging, or simply the quest to postpone what is obviously inevitable, has spawned a $140 billion-dollar anti-aging industry in our own country, and an estimated $216 billion dollar market worldwide. This denial is echoed by leaders who speak to the pros and cons of Social Security and Medicare while simultaneously disavowing a myriad of other issues impacting the quality of life for an aging population.

Avoidance of the subject is certainly not one-sided. A 2006-2008 elder readiness study conducted by the University of Kentucky concluded there was “an overwhelming lack of awareness” and “a general state of denial” among the individuals and families interviewed. Answers most often given ranged from “You’re not talking about me” to “That’s a long way away” to “When the time comes, the government will take care of me.”

The survey also served to identify several factors that remain unaddressed in Kentucky and elsewhere today. Employment of older workers, affordable and adaptable housing, the availability of public transit, support for family caregivers and grandparents raising grandchildren are just a few of the issues that echo national concerns as well.

Consider this quote from www.iyhusa.com:

“Nearly 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their own homes as they age, often referred to as “aging in place.” Even if they begin to need day-to-day assistance or ongoing health care during retirement, most (82 percent) would prefer to stay in their homes.”

Yet, despite what appears to be obvious, generally I’ve found that comprehensive planning at the state and local level to address the needs of an aging population is sorely lacking. According to a 2013 U.S. of Aging Survey, this failure of recognition on the part of many elected and public officials has led seniors to “lack confidence in their community’s preparedness” and many adults (18 to 59) to “believe their community is not doing enough to prepare for the future needs of the growing senior population.”

Communities, they felt should invest more in public transportation, affordable health care, and affordable housing.

That is why Preparing for an Aging Population, a survey conducted among leaders of 108 cities at the 2016 U.S. Conference of Mayors is so significant. The survey asked these Mayors to:

“Identify what resources, policy changes, and infrastructure developments are needed to make our cities more ‘livable,’ so that our older residents can choose to live out their lives in their own homes and communities, surrounded by family and friends and a vibrant social and cultural network, for as long as possible.”

Among survey findings:

• 9 out of 10 mayors said aging issues are of “high importance”

• Nearly 70% said having policies to ensure that older adults can work for as long as they want or need to, is a “top or high priority”

• 64% said having social activities that involve younger and older people spending time together was a “top or high priority”

• 86% said coordinating transportation services for older adults and people with disabilities was a “top or high priority”

• 3 out of 4 mayors cited fitness activities for older adults as a “top or high priority”

• Nearly 80% said having or establishing an aging-related task force was a “top or high priority”

Many Mayors also cited public safety and housing options as issues in need of their city’s attention. Stressing “increased police presence and better communication” between police and community residents and the availability of housing “close to stores, transportation, health care facilities and other community services,” as subjects of concern.

Their observations mirror what many who support “age-friendly” movements already know, that making cities more livable for our older citizens ultimately makes cities more livable for us all.

If your friends, neighbors, and elected officials have been in denial about aging, it’s time to tell them all to get on board. The consequences of inaction are everyone’s concern. Join me in supporting the Ageing-Equal campaign. Let people know how you feel.

Jeff Rubin is a consultant on community and aging issues, the author of Wisdom of Age, and a recent honoree of the Maria Shriver “Architect of Change of the Week” Award. Having spent over 20 years as a director and facilitator of community service programs at the local, state and national levels, he is today an advocate for “Age-friendly” and “Livable” communities, Rubin is currently working to advance positive aging in Kentucky and worldwide. He invites your comments, involvement, and support. Jeff can be reached at Jeffrubin515@gmail.com.

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