Surging Senior Population is Upon Us

By Stephen Fielding

Recently I attended the Massachusetts Association of Councils On Aging and Senior Center Directors 2016 Conference (MCOA). This annual meeting always heightens knowledge of seniors we serve through extremely informative and educational sessions each conference day, allows you to meet and discuss with highly educated, experienced state and federal officials a myriad of “senior-related” issues and disciplines through plenary symposiums and roundtable discussions, and provides networking opportunities with over 600 senior center directors to share real-life senior problems and how to resolve them. This year I was fortunate to be a member of the MCOA marketing advisory committee and contribute to an upcoming new marketing handbook that will be released in 2017and susequently distributed and used by every single Massachusetts city or town that has a Council on Aging and/or Senior Center. Last year I was a presenter of a session that highlighted the Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center as a model for creating a “Welcoming Center for All”. Over the last three years, the Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center has been viewed by the MCOA membership and acclaimed as a model urban template for providing a vast array of programs, services, and activities along with a superb transportation and meals offerings to the 10,194 Revere seniors (age 60 + based on the 2010 census six years ago). The Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center served approximately 2,880 Revere seniors/ 28.25% as of FY2016. It is estimated that the current Revere senior population is approximately 15,000. I do know our participation at our center has increased by 74% over the last three years.

As the senior statistics in many categories skyrocket across Massachusetts, and for us in Revere, elected officials, Police, Fire, EMT/Ambulatory Care personnel, medical professionals, caregivers, and other essential senior service providers better be prepared. Additionally, increased senior residential housing should be on everyone’s radar screen.  It is a fact that the 2020 Census numbers will indicate alarmingly true and confirmed data once all this new census information is finally compiled and confirmed. Projections are staggering. In the next few years the impact in every city and town will be enormous for each municipal service and related extended senior services. Every senior center director realizes this. The bottom line is that most feel their municipal leadership do not comprehend this or dismiss the senior population, including veterans, as unimportant except during election years, do not earmark enough monies to fund staff, programs, and services, provide adequate senior centers, and residential housing, focusing their attention to other age segments and other city initiatives.

Currently, the Revere Office of Elder Affairs has 11 employees, three full-time at forty hours per week and one at thirty hours per week. The other 8 employees work under twenty-hours per week.  Staffing to support the operation of the center is a constant challenge. The facility at 25 Winthrop Avenue is in dire need of replacement and requires specific and necessary work right now, despite many recent cosmetic improvements. We are grateful to have a place for seniors but by today’s standards it is totally antiquated in structure, layout and design, capacity, and parking The city budget for the Office of Elder Affairs is not adequate for many reasons. If not for a State Formula Grant through the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs as well as two grants through the Older Americans Act that provides financial assistance for a meals program and health & exercise programs, there would be no Revere Office of Elder Affairs Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center as it exists today. To clarify and be fair – most Massachusetts cities and towns face the same issues we do.

I’d like to share information derived from The Gerontology Institute, McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, University of Massachusetts Boston that researches and charts statistical information:

Data released from the 2010 Census reveal that the aging of the population is occurring at a rapid pace in Massachusetts. The number of individuals aged 60 and over, numbering 1.3 million people, increased by 16% between 2000 and 2010. People aged 60 and over now represent 19.5% of Massachusetts’ population. This large increase is due primarily to the aging of the Baby Boom population — the large cohort of individuals born between 1945 and 1964. Ten thousand Baby Boomers per day now reach age 65 and retire each day. Growth in the 60+ population, as well as in the middle-aged population aged 45-59 (which grew 22% during that 10-year time frame), offsets declines in the size of the younger population. Taking all age groups together, Massachusetts increased in population from 6.3 million in 2000 to 6.5 million in 2010, an overall growth of 3.1%. For the first time in U.S. history there are now more individuals age 60 or older than individuals age 20 or younger.

As a result of the aging of the Massachusetts population, one in five Massachusetts residents is now aged 60 or over, and 14% is aged 65 or more. One-quarter of all of the households in Massachusetts includes at least one person aged 65 and over. Indeed, eleven percent of all Massachusetts households are now composed of a person aged 65 and over living alone.

Massachusetts is home to more than 6.5 million people. Of these, more than 2.2 million (33.6 percent) are over age 50; nearly 1.3 million (19.4 percent) are over 60; nearly 650,000 (9.7 percent) are over 70; and nearly 300,000 (4.3 percent) are over 80. The proportion of women rises to 65.3 percent of those 80 and older.

The proportion of Massachusetts’s population that is 60 and older is growing more rapidly than other components of the population. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that more than 25 percent of Massachusetts’s population will be 60 and older by the year 2030, an increase of 33 percent from 2012.

The over-85 year-old senior segment of the population is the most rapidly growing segment. One in three seniors live alone. One in three senior household income is $20,000 (poverty level). Thirty-three percent of those 65-74 years old are still working. One on four 65 year-olds do volunteer work. Twenty-five percent of the workforce are senior caregivers.

Senior Center Participants nationwide:

Approximately 80% of senior center participants are women; More than half of them live alone.

The majority are Caucasian, followed by African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians respectively.

Compared with their peers, senior center participants have higher levels of health, social interaction, and life satisfaction and lower levels of income.

The average age of participants is 75.

75% of participants visit their center 1 to 3 times per week. They spend an average of 3.3 hours per visit.

Nationwide Senior        Services

Senior centers serve as a gateway to the nation’s aging network—connecting older adults to vital community services that can help them stay healthy and independent.

More than 60% of senior centers are designated focal points for delivery of OAA services—allowing older adults to access multiple services in one place.

Senior centers offer a wide variety of programs and services, including:

Meal and nutrition programs

Information and assistance

Health, fitness, and wellness programs

Transportation services

Public benefits counseling

Employment assistance

Volunteer and civic engagement opportunities

Social and recreational activities

Educational and arts programs

In conclusion, the reality is that the senior population is increasing and soaring to record-breaking numbers. Our human service works at the Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center is more essential and more relevant than ever before. I am thankful that our elected officials realize this but hope they will take action to safeguard our senior services at a level consistent with the population numbers.

For more information about the center contact: Revere Office of Elder Affairs/ Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center, 25 Winthrop Ave., Revere, MA 02151 at (781) 286-8156 or visit the Office of Elder Affairs department page (control & click to follow the link):

Stephen W. Fielding is Director, Revere Office of Elder Affairs & Rossetti-Cowan Senior Center

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