The aging of our region: A seismic demographic shift that will affect everything.
By Dawn Simonson, Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging
I recently co-convened a group of advisors to select information on aging to be included on Compass. In the development of any new endeavor that uses scarce resources, we have an obligation to ask the hard questions. Why is this important? What will change? Whose lives will improve? Basically – so what? As they release measures and other data related to the growing population of older adults on Compass, Wilder Research asked for my thoughts on these questions.
I found the task surprisingly difficult. What could I offer that hasn't already been said? We all know the basics: People are living longer, as life expectancy has doubled over the last 100 years, due to medical and technological advances, labor policy, public health interventions, and social welfare programs. Between 2010 and 2030, the number of adults in the region ages 65 and older is expected to double, while the number of younger residents will increase only modestly. And the folks doing the doubling are the baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – one of the largest generations in history.
On a macro level, the answers about importance are obvious. This monumental demographic shift will impact the very fabric of society across economic, social, civic, and physical infrastructures. Such a major shift in the age of our society has never happened before, and it presents many opportunities as well as challenges. The age wave will impact deeply health care, transportation, recreation, public safety, housing, employment, volunteerism, and education. Tangibly stated – more patients with chronic diseases, fewer drivers, more park benches, more calls to 911, more older workers, more volunteers, fewer K-12 students. I am not sure what to say about housing. I just know that the mix of options will have to change.
At a more meaningful and practical level, a one-stop-data-shop about the status of older people, including their age, income, disability levels and volunteerism will be powerful. Simply having access to a credible, accurate source of aging-related data and other information all in one place will provide engaged citizens, community organizations, policy-makers, and the business community with a tremendous resource.
As I think about what will change and whose lives will improve, I offer one scenario and trust that there are many, many others. Organizations such as the Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging and other funders will use aging-related data and other information on Compass to help make informed decisions. This will improve our ability to be good stewards of resources. I believe too that nonprofits will look to the data and measures on Compass to assist in their development and design of programs, to better serve their clients and constituents. All organizations, regardless of size or budget, will have access to key data, information about promising practices, and ideas for action at their fingertips. Older people, their families, and our communities will all benefit in the long run.