Two of our partner organizations, Senior Connections and LeadingAge, are celebrating a huge milestone – 50 years since they were founded. We asked their leaders, Amy Strite and Melissa Andrews, to share their responses to the following question:
As our community looks to the next 50 years, what are the greatest opportunities and challenges facing older adults and the people who care for them?
The next 50 years will present a myriad of opportunities and challenges for older adults and the people who care for them. Some of these are readily apparent, as they are faced by older individuals from every generation:
- How will economic challenges be met?
- Will there be affordable, accessible health care and housing?
- What happens when long standing social supports are no longer available?
We have new opportunities and challenges that will be on the horizon over the next 50 years that we can only begin to imagine:
- What impact will be felt as America rapidly becomes a majority minority nation?
- What might the different needs and expectations be as today’s 40-year-olds become older adults? What about the expectations of today’s 17-year-olds as older adults?
- What difference will it make that a generation largely saddled with student loan debt struggled with home ownership?
- How might the experiences and expectations of the first digital generation differ from others?
While opportunities, challenges, or expectations may differ over time, two historical issues must be addressed:
- As a society we need to work hard to eliminate ageism and embrace aging as a natural part of life. Dismantling ageism will help us to face the most challenging and the most liberating aspects of aging fully and equally. Also critical to this process will be the development and maintenance of a workforce that is capable of providing high quality care and support wherever one might live. Physicians, nurses, social workers, behavioral health practitioners, and transportation providers are already in short supply and the need for their services will only increase in the coming years.
- We don’t do well in isolation. For many, the pandemic shone a harsh light on the impacts of isolation. We are, at every age, inherently social and relational creatures. We need to see one another, talk with each other, hold hands, and laugh together. It is necessary for good health and a good life, whether we are six months old or 96 years old, and at every stage in between. We’d all do well to remember this in the next 50 years as we move forward together.
Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging is a private nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization established in 1973. Senior Connections is a member of a network of approximately 700 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) nationwide with 25 located in the Commonwealth of Virginia. They strive to empower seniors to live with dignity and choice.
Affordable housing with service coordination for the middle-market consumer is both a challenge and an opportunity for our community in the coming decades. I’ve personally agonized over my mom’s ability to find connection and a secure future with little savings and a shared pension. The research on demographic trends forecasts a level of unmet need in the middle market that is alarming.
Rarely in the history of health and aging services has the need for creativity and the imperative for action been clearer. The very rapid growth trajectory of the 75+ middle market is more dramatic than the growth of low-income elderly for the first time in memory.
Government subsidized programs help provide alternatives for low-income families (we need more of these options as well), and there are Life Plan Communities for upper-income elders. But, the 56% of older Americans that are in the middle market may fall between the cracks. A high percentage of them will also have future care and mobility needs but will desire to age in place where they can remain connected to the greater community.
LeadingAge Virginia believes there is a strong social and ethical imperative to solve this problem because there is:
- Very rapid growth trajectory of the 75+ middle market
- Very few secure alternatives available to these older adults
- Significant need for services after age 75.
Not-for-profits are built on mission, collaboration, innovation and leadership. I challenge our community to:
- Support changes that occur with aging
- Recognize the different needs of older adults and their families.
- Create new affordable housing with a services model for the middle market that depends on:
- community partnerships and volunteerism
- decreased workforce (compared to other settings)
The middle market deserves options as they age. Together, we can meet this challenge head on.
LeadingAge Virginia is a professional association, celebrating its 50th year anniversary in 2023, representing the not-for-profit continuum of aging services throughout Virginia, including affordable senior housing, nursing homes, adult day, assisted livings, home health, hospice, life plan and continuing care retirement communities. Visit www.leadingagevirginia.org for more information.