A Summit on Aging

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September 22, 2015 by Jean

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Last week, I attended the Maine Summit on Aging, sponsored by the Maine Council on Aging. Maine’s position as the state with the oldest median age has made the needs of an aging population a live issue here. The Maine Council on Aging would like Maine to become a recognized national leader in developing innovative policies to support aging well. To that end, the state legislature has already developed a bipartisan Caucus on Aging for legislators who are particularly interested in addressing these concerns.

The Summit was a gathering of elders, policy makers, and those who provide services to elders. The day was divided into plenary sessions and breakout sessions. There was also an anteroom where exhibitors were providing information and pitching products and services. The seating for the plenary sessions and for lunch was at round banquet tables, which encouraged interaction among participants. I sat with my friend Rhoda, a recent retiree from a social service job who knew many other participants and an extravert who’s great at striking up conversations with strangers.

The morning plenary session focused on Maine’s aging demographic and its economic implications. This was followed by ten different breakout sessions on diverse policy issues. Most of these addressed issues of aging and “thriving” in place. Both Rhoda and I would have liked to attend the session on “Advancing New Models of Housing and Land Use,” but it was by far the most popular choice and was already full before either of us registered. As a second choice, Rhoda attended the session on “Age Friendly Communities at Work” and I selected the session on “Designing Local Volunteer Transportation Initiatives.”

Transportation is a critical issue in Maine because most of the population lives in rural areas. In the 2010 census, 80% of the United States population lived in urban areas (this includes suburbs) and an even higher 85% of the population in the northeast lived in urban areas, but only 40% of Maine’s population was urban. In rural areas, population and services are spread out over large areas and there is typically no public transportation. Under these circumstances, no longer being able to drive cuts a person off from needed goods, services, and social interaction. The breakout session included presentations about three different volunteer transportation programs in rural Maine communities. The presenters were agreed that public transportation was unlikely to be viable in such communities (many don’t even have taxi service) and that local volunteer initiatives are the most practical way to address these needs. All three programs were volunteer-based, with fundraising separated from services so that there is no charge for using the services. The oldest of the three programs had expanded to include other services as volunteer drivers learned that the elders they drove often needed more than just a ride. This session was full of practical information about how to get started in creating a local program and about critical issues to address. I left it with an increased interest in this issue and encouragement that there was action I could take.

The afternoon plenary session consisted primarily of a panel discussion about “Innovative Community Solutions at Work” and included discussion of a variety of needs, programs and resources. Once again, the feeling was upbeat, with a sense that a lot of good things are happening in Maine and there is much we can accomplish at both the local and state levels. All-in-all, the day was a good one and left me feeling much more integrated and involved in my home state. I’m glad I participated and will definitely consider going again next year.

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5 thoughts on “A Summit on Aging

  1. Jean R says:

    You retired in the perfect state! With any luck, by the time you need services they will be in place to do you some good. And you know how to tap into what’s out there. That’s as important and having them available.

    Transportation is an issue in densely populated areas where I live too. The nearest bus stop is five miles away and the go bus that picks up seniors for appointments is too costly for most people and they won’t go to grocery stores and other non-medical related offices. I’ve got that worked out in my mind. They have these fancy food boxes from around the world you can order online so I won’t starve. I joke about that I think delivery of ordinary foods is coming. One of the chains in town is experimenting with online ordering that you can just drive-up to a door later in the day and pick up your order without getting out of your car. So far, the younger, working people are loving it, but I can see older people who can’t walk the stories doing it when they hear about it.

    • Jean says:

      Jean, Two things that the programs featured in the breakout session had figured out were that (1) there could not be a cost barrier to people using the service and (2) it was important to provide transportation for all kinds of needs, not just things like medical appointments.

  2. I am glad to hear that someone is taking the lead with aging and solutions to needs. I look forward to seeing what comes out of Maine in hopes other states will take up this issue of aging as the baby boomers are only getting older and are a big group.

    • Jean says:

      Donna, I am hoping that the fact we are part of such a big generation of aging will make services more likely — although you may benefit more from that than those like me who are at the front of the baby boom wave.

  3. […] an interaction between ageism and sexism makes them much more virulent for elderly women. At the Maine Summit on Aging that I attended last month, one of the speakers used slides with engaging graphics to illustrate […]

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I am Jean Potuchek, a professional sociologist who has just stepped into the next phase of my life, retirement, after more than thirty years of college teaching. This blog is about my experience of that new phase of life.

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