Henrico County VA

Summit addresses ‘promise,’ challenges of aging population

Members of the Older Dominion Partnership gathered last month in Henrico to educate Virginians about the importance of creating awareness and working together to conquer the difficulties of aging, at the Age Wave Summit II Conference.

The head committee arrived at the all-day conference May 19, held at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Virginia in Henrico, equipped with words of motivation to tackle “the promise, not the problem, of aging.”

As its motto says, the Older Dominion Partnership (ODP) exists to help the quickly aging citizens of Virginia who might be facing shortages in affordable senior housing, professional healthcare, care management and home care.

The partnership is a nonprofit program started by businesses and foundations to raise Virginia’s state of aging preparedness. Since Virginia's 65-and-older population is predicted to double to 1.8 million by 2030, the partnership is providing an independent program to help the elderly ride the age wave. Its goal is to offer people assured security and to let Virginia lead the nation into a new period of safe aging.

The first speaker, Richmond Times-Dispatch Publisher Thomas Silvestri, was quick to talk about the problems that Virginia faces. The public’s aging population might want to take care of the aging issues, but it is not ready, he said. Not only did Silvestri discuss the problem with financial support, but he also highlighted the fact that the public’s desire for action fell short.

“There is no urgency,” Silvestri said. “That has to change…awareness is the first step, but Virginia needs our kick to get there.

“It’s important to spend time in the community rather than in conference rooms. Virginia has all the history to lead the new age wave, but the federal government isn’t ready.”

Once everyone is on board, he believes that Virginia will master the age wave. Silvestri got the audience keyed up for the upcoming afternoon by chanting, “I don’t want to be mad as hell, I want to avoid a disaster.”

Expectations discussed
As a member of the Virginia House of Delegates since 2001, in addition to being a practicing physician, Virginia Delegate John O’Bannon (R-73rd District) holds a unique perspective on the age wave topic.

During his “Boomers Meet Medicare – What Now?” address at the summit, O’Bannon talked specifically about the expectations of boomers and the role of Medicare in their lives.

“Technology is lengthening people’s lives,” O’Bannon said. “Medical breakthroughs will come to make people healthy, but there will always be health problems. Medicare needs to change to accommodate the agers.” The boomers might expect to stay alive longer and continue to do what they want; however there are still concerns about the burden of chronic illness to deal with.

“Americans do what they want first and then they worry about consequences later,” O’Bannon said.

Three testimonials discussed why the ODP mattered to the community.

“This room symbolizes the long bench. Right now, it’s not as deep,” said Virginia Association of Area Agencies on Aging (V4A) representative Courtney Tierney. She emphasized the importance of working together and utilizing ODP’s resources for everyone’s benefit.

“Individually, we can’t scratch the surface, but together with data, we can do it.” The V4A strives to provide resources and policies that will help the elderly lead meaningful lives.

Jeanne McCusker from Home Instead Senior Care in Charlottesville underscored similar points.

“This is a global issue like the energy crisis, financial crisis and the environmental crisis,” McCusker said. “To change the face of aging, we need companionship instead of isolation.”

The 2011 Age Ready Indicators Survey conducted by the ODP gives the public an idea of whether or not seniors and boomers feel they are ready to face the age wave. The 5,000 respondents were contacted by mail, phone or online. Some of the responses were obtained through 30-minute interviews. In total, 164 questions were asked.

When questioned about their quality of life, 75 percent of seniors and 70 percent of boomers answered that their lives were very good or excellent whereas. Out of all the respondents, 61 percent of seniors and 48 percent of boomers felt that they were personally well prepared to navigate the challenges of aging. On the other hand, fewer thought that their community was prepared. Only 32 percent of seniors and 16 percent of boomers agreed that their communities were well prepared.

According to the survey, 29 percent of seniors and 40 percent of boomers felt either often or sometimes lonely. Comparing 1980 and 2011, frequent loneliness decreased slightly.

In the workforce, a very low percentage felt that they had ever been discriminated against because of age. A high percentage of both seniors and boomers received no public assistance and stated that they did not need it.

About four in ten of those aged 65-and-older have a chronic illness. Nearly half of the seniors and boomers who participated in the survey had visited a doctor due to injury or illness within the past two years.

After collecting the survey results, the ODP plans to work on the problem areas in order to improve the standard of aging in Virginia.
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