Aging Baby Boomers present challenges, opportunities alike

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Like the rest of the nation, Kentucky is seeing a definite graying trend as more and more Baby Boomers move past their 65th birthday and a growing number of citizens reach their nineties and beyond.

There are about 600,000 Kentuckians who fit in this broad age group. For perspective, that’s about four-fifths the size of Jefferson County, and it is about to get much larger.  Census figures indicate this population will see a nearly 30 percent bump this decade across the state and another 27 percent in the 2020s.  The numbers in some communities will nearly double during this time.

There are opportunities and challenges alike arising from this change.  We rank 10th among the states in the percentage of citizens 65 to 74, for example, which is a key demographic because of their collective wealth and volunteerism. On the down side, issues tied to poverty remain stubbornly high for our elderly, and we are among the leading states in the growth of grandparents providing primary care of their grandchildren.

Another growing trend, unfortunately, is the fact that far too many of our older citizens are being abused, ignored or taken advantage of. A recent report by the Kentucky Elder Abuse Committee found that the number of substantiated cases of self-neglect, neglect by caretaker and exploitation has sky-rocketed since 2007.

A congressional report last year, meanwhile, estimated that 14 percent of older Americans have been abused, but this is widely believed to be low, with many cases undoubtedly going unreported.

As our senior population increases, the number of those suffering from Alzheimer’s is rising as well. There were about 74,000 Kentuckians who fell in this category in 2000, but that’s expected to rise to 97,000 by 2025.

In addition to the medical costs associated with treatment, there is a tremendous amount of free care being provided as well by family and friends. The Alzheimer’s Association said more than 264,000 people are in this support group, and last year their care was estimated at $3.65 billion. That’s $1.4 billion more than in 2009.

In an effort to help our older citizens as much as possible, the General Assembly looks for ways to improve state services each legislative session.

Even in the face of budget cuts, the legislature supported adding $31 million more this year and next to the Department of Community Based Services, which is enabling that agency to hire 300 additional front-line social workers to investigate claims of abuse and neglect, no matter the age.

The budget also sets aside $5 million more annually to increase programs like Meals on Wheels, and we provide about $1.7 million to establish an adult-abuse registry to help businesses involved in elder care be assured that their employees have not been convicted of crimes against the elderly.

Other new laws taking effect this year will do such things as improve the way the state responds to strokes; establish a pilot program to improve oral care at nursing homes; and ensure that anyone admitted to a personal care home is assessed beforehand by a qualified mental health professional. There are about 3,000 men and women who currently live in these settings, and the need to know more about the care they may require is crucial.

In past years the General Assembly created Golden Alerts - similar to alerts used to find missing children, except they are targeted at older citizens - and we cracked down on those convicted of elder abuse, to better ensure they do not benefit from those they abused or neglected.

These are just a few of the initiatives that have been enacted, but no one expects them to be the last.  As new challenges arise, the legislature will look for ways to overcome them.

If you are aware of any abuse, please don’t hesitate to contact the state’s abuse hotline at 1-800-752-6200.  If you would like to know more about any senior programs being offered, meanwhile, please contact the Department for Aging and Independent Living at (502) 564-6930.

Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.