September 11, 2013

Maine leaders warned of impact as state's population ages

'Radical rethinking' will be needed, an economist tells a Maine gathering taking a first step in developing solutions.

By Kelley Bouchard
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

Maine's dependency ratio
The "dependency ratio" refers to the number of working-age adults divided by the number of non-working dependents. As Maine's retired population grows, this ratio is expected to shrink dramatically. Click below to explore an interactive chart showing how Maine's population is expected to age over the next 15 years.

aging chart thumbnail

Highlights and findings from ‘The Challenge of our Age’

Social Security is the only source of income for one-third of Mainers age 65 and older, and 10 percent of the state’s seniors are living at or below poverty level.

Maine seniors receive critical assistance from about 150,000 to 200,000 family and informal caregivers, but four out of five of these caregivers get little or no training and support.

Many seniors who need housing in Maine spend two to three years on local housing authority waiting lists before they get a place to live. Maine needs more than 8,000 affordable rental housing units for seniors by 2015, according to the Maine State Housing Authority.

Forty-three percent of Maine’s nursing homes and 41 percent of assisted-living facilities dependent on MaineCare need renovation or replacement.

More than 1,500 Maine seniors are on waiting lists for MaineCare-funded personal and home care services, and the situation is likely to get worse. State spending on home care actually decreased from $49 million to $47 million in the decade ending in 2010.

An estimated 34,000 Maine seniors are victims of physical, emotional or financial abuse or exploitation each year, according to the Maine Office of Aging and Disability Services. Most abusers are family members and caregivers, and about 84 percent of cases go unreported.

The lack of public transit or other transportation options in largely rural Maine means that 90 percent of seniors who don’t drive rely on family and friends to get food, health care and other basic needs.

Maine has no effective plan to deal with these and other problems posed by its growing senior population, and its political leadership has failed to take or even call for comprehensive, statewide action on issues that promise to affect every family and community.

"Training in the workplace isn't happening," Colgan said, noting that public and private employers have greatly reduced or eliminated employee training programs in recent years. At the same time, pressure on the public education system to better train workers has increased.

"Everybody needs to see the challenges of an aging population as a whole, recognize their part in it and work together to address it," Colgan said.

Rep. Eves echoed Colgan's concerns during a break in the three-hour meeting at the Augusta Civic Center.

"If we do nothing, our labor costs are going to be very high relative to the rest of the country," Eves said.

However, he said, Maine's rapidly aging population challenges every facet of living in the state, including housing, transportation, health care and long-term care. It also requires lawmakers and others to seek ways to make communities more livable for people of all ages, not just people older than 65.

Rather than leave state agencies to handle the challenges alone, community leaders across Maine must work together to develop new approaches and solutions, Eves said. If that happens, Maine could be a model for the rest of the nation and the world.

"I think timing is everything and interest is there," Eves said. "To do nothing is no longer the solution."

The series of roundtable talks is being sponsored by the independent Maine Council on Aging and the John T. Gorman Foundation. The council includes the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, AARP Maine and the Alzheimer's Association Maine Chapter. Additional meetings are scheduled for Oct. 1, 15 and 29.

The discussion at the initial meeting included about 30 state and municipal officials, business leaders and representatives of nonprofits. In the audience were about 40 others interested in the topic.

Participants raised a variety of concerns, from a growing need for more flexible long-term care options to shortages in accessible and affordable senior housing and transportation. They also noted that while many seniors are retiring to Maine, some Maine seniors are moving to other states, in part because the states have no income tax.

Rick Vail, president and chief executive officer of Mechanics Savings Bank in Auburn, praised the roundtable meeting for bringing together a diverse group of people interested in aging issues that face the state. He said it was a positive first step in what should be a sustained, deliberate effort.

"It's nice to identify the issues," said Vail, who is president of the Maine Bankers Association. "It's always harder to identify the solutions."

Vail described Maine as a large, rural, poor state where community problems "don't just belong to the public sector." He said the state must develop coordinated public-private partnerships to address issues of aging in manageable, "bite-size" pieces that will build momentum for long-term success.

He said a trend toward revitalizing urban centers may offer opportunities to solve housing, transportation and economic development challenges, as long as urban centers remain economically diverse.

"I hope (information gathered at the roundtable talks) turns into something attainable," Vail said.

Barbara Edmond, president of the Maine Philanthropy Center, was another participant Tuesday.

In explaining her concerns about aging in Maine, Edmond noted that a 69-year-old family member recently died after dealing with the added emotional and financial stress of caring for an 80-year-old spouse who has Alzheimer's disease.

Nearly one in seven Maine seniors will be claimed by Alzheimer's disease. Between now and 2020, the number of Alzheimer's cases in Maine will rise from 37,000 to 53,000 -- a 43 percent increase that will fuel a need for more caregivers, more specialized housing and more health care and social services.

"The time is now, the issue is real and we need to do something about it," Edmond said.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

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