Building aging friendly communities

Clif Barber

“According to a recent report, Bayfield County will be one of the ‘oldest’ counties in the state in coming years based on the number of projected residents age 65 and older.

What will this look like for the community? How will these demographics impact human services, transportation, health care, families, schools, community engagement and other aspects of life in the area?

To begin exploring these changes, Bayfield County UW-Extension and Bayfield County Human Services recently hosted ‘The Age Wave,’ a daylong workshop focused on ways com­munities can address the needs of older adults while providing a high quality of life for people of all ages. Held at the Northern Great Lakes Visitor Center, the program brought diverse perspectives to the table with participation from local government; county, tribal, and non-profit ser­vice agencies; education; health care and others.

Based on current cen­sus data, it’s easy to see the Chequamegon Bay area is already home to a relatively high per­centage of older adults. Approximately 16 per­cent of Ashland County residents are age 65 and older. The percentage in Bayfield County is even higher at approximately 21 percent. However, by 2035, that measure for Bayfield County is expected to reach around 40 percent.

‘It’s a bit of an eye opener to realize that in just 15 years, two of ev­ery five Bayfield County residents will be 65 or older,’ said Tim Kane, Bayfield County UW-Extension educator.

The data is based on Wisconsin’s Future Population: Projections for the State, Its Coun­ties and Municipalities, 2010-2040, compiled by David Egan-Robertson, UW-Madison Applied Population Laboratory for the Wisconsin Depart­ment of Administration, Demographic Services Center, 2013.

‘Since 1900, U.S. life expectancy has increased by about 30 years—from 47 years to 77 years,’ said Clifton Barber, PhD, who co-led the program. Barber is a professor in the Department of Hu­man Development and Family Studies at UW-Madison and Program Specialist in Aging for UW-Extension Family Living Programs. “Longer life expectancy combined with the baby boom has created a phenomenon popularly called the ‘age wave.’ In the 2010 Census, Florida was the oldest state, with 17.3 percent of its population age 65 or older. Wis­consin ranked 22nd , at 13.7 percent. By 2035, between 35-40 percent of the population in some rural Wisconsin counties, particularly in the north­ern tier of the state, is projected to be 65-plus.”

This change will im­pact the area in multiple ways. ‘It’s very impor­tant for communities to be proactive in creating environments that are aging-friendly,’ says Bar­ber, ‘This means places where people can live their entire lives rather than having to re-locate when they experience changes in health and functioning. Unless we make a commitment to create livable, aging-friendly communities, a large percentage of the population will find it dif­ficult to age successfully and remain engaged with their communities.’

Workshop participants identified key challenges communities will face in coming years due to the increasing popula­tion of older adults. Transportation, health care, social inclusion and housing were among the top issues that surfaced. Participants then identi­fied factors that can make communities more inviting and healthy for people of multiple generations. Numerous ideas were presented from housing design, easy-to-read signage, and more public transporta­tion to educating commu­nity members on how to watch out for each other and providing space and activities that encourage intergenerational social interaction.

‘It was great to see the strong interest in this topic based on the variety of folks who attended the workshop, including five county supervisors, and hear creative suggestions for making their commu­nities more aging-friend­ly,’ says Kane.

Support for family caregiving is another key part of the equation. ‘Communities rely in great part on the work of family members who provide care to aging or disabled relatives,’ says Elizabeth Lexau, UW- Extension Family Living Educator. ‘Their efforts help relieve demand on public support systems. This work can be ex­tremely time consuming and often takes place after work. Yet fam­ily caregivers are often unnoticed and unsup­ported. It’s important to recognize that this work benefits all of us, not just those receiving care. As the population of older adults in our community increases, this work will become even more es­sential.’

Carrie Linder, Aging and Disability Services Manager with Bayfield County Human Services, points out that issues surrounding aging have far-reaching impacts.

‘This trend affects the entire region, not just those growing older,’ she said. ‘This day brought together a cross section of individuals from various disciplines interested in making positive change. We have an opportunity to join together and make Bayfield County an even greater place to live for all ages.’

To learn more about ways to get involved in is­sues and services related to aging, contact Carrie Linder, Bayfield County Aging and Disability Services Manager at 715-373-6144, ext. 174.”

-Ashland Daily Press, Ashland, WI; 30 Sept. 2014

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