OK, Boomer. Senior Needs May Overwhelm Resources
More Alaskans are living longer and staying in the state as they age. 18,000 people in the Interior are 60 or older. But the number of seniors may overwhelm the resources they need.
The North Star Council on Aging tracks seniors over 60 years old, many of whom are staying in dark, cold Alaska even as they require more assistance to stay healthy and get around. Darlene Supplee is the Executive Director.
“In 2018 there were 17,000 seniors in the borough. It’s projected to be 21,200. We call this the ‘silver tsunami.’ We have the fastest growing aging population of all of the states.”
Supplee gave a presentation to the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly at a recent worksession, where she reported on a Senior Needs Assessment commissioned by the borough. And she continued to drop dramatic statistics.
“The 80 and older population, where we see our greatest concern, is 1,587 in 2018, that will grow to 5,402 by 2035. That’s a 240% increase here in the borough.”
Supplee warned that the 80 and older population needs greater help at home, and families either hire professional help or place their seniors in assisted living facilities nearby. But there are not enough now, much less in 20 years, when today’s 60-year-old Alaskans turn 80.
“One of the things I admire about the aging population is Alaskans are stubborn. 83% of those that we surveyed are planning on staying here in the state.”
The data came from a survey conducted by the Alaska Commission on Aging.
Supplee showed a graph with a familiar demographic bump caused by people who are in their 60s now.
“This is driven from the baby boomers. They’ve been affecting our culture since they were born. And they are sure going to go off kicking and screaming. This is the oldest, as far as the world is concerned, this is the oldest population acceleration in three centuries.”
Supplee cautioned that private and public institutions need to be proactive to plan for an aging population with less physical ability, more disease, and memory problems. Data show that while seniors volunteer in huge numbers, and pour more money into the economy with spending, they also pull on public services for medical help, and recreation.
And the ratio of human resources to need is very small. For every 80 year old, there are now 17 folks in the caregiver demographic aged 40 to 65. In less than 20 years, there will only be 4 likely caregivers for every 80 year old.
Alaska already has a doctor shortage and few geriatric specialists – there is only one in Fairbanks. Many doctors today refuse new patients who pay with Medicare.
Supplee also pointed out the positive network of senior services available now.
The Borough has a Senior Citizens Advisory Commission that meets the third Thursday of the month at the Big Dipper Conference Room.
The North Star Council on Aging is efficient in stretching grant and donation money to serve seniors in Fairbanks and North Pole, with Meals on Wheels, welfare and exercise visits to those who can’t leave their homes, transportation to medical appointments, heating fuel assistance, a small home modification program to help aging in place, and caregiver assistance. There are many onsite programs at the Senior Center on Moore Street in Fairbanks.
She says for the 21st century, these programs will need to increase tenfold.
“It’s an honor to do what we do. But we sure do need a lot of help. And it is going to take the whole community being aware, and making strategic moves about how we can be ready.”