As a community and state, we do a lot for our seniors but not all that we should. Those who have worked so hard to create the world we enjoy and to whom we owe so much should be paid back with our love, our respect and a continuum of services that enable them to live vibrantly as they age. We are blessed that the community of seniors is increasing: the number of seniors over 85 has tripled in the last 10 years and will continue to grow dramatically. But their needs are multiplying too, and becoming more complex.
This dynamic causes increasing challenges for our seniors and places difficult responsibilities on their families, including the “sandwich generation.” Even the most caring families can’t do it all by themselves. There must be a range of resources and programs that support the variety of choices that seniors should be able to make as they age.
First, there must be available, affordable home & community services. We all want to live independently as long as possible. Seniors are eager, willing and able to participate in a variety of social, cultural, educational and wellness activities, as well as paid and volunteer work. The recession hit our older workers hard and many require skill development to ensure that they are marketable in today’s economy. Our younger seniors came of age in an era of tremendous social transformation; government can play a role in encouraging their energy and desire to give back in productive ways.
As time goes by, many seniors will begin to want or need additional support. Many seniors will benefit from various forms of in-home assistance from professional home care providers. The state’s Medicaid waiver program that provides reimbursement for non-nursing home services must be increased: thousands of seniors are on the waiting list. Some seniors will look for or need to consider housing options designed specifically for them. We need to be sure that there are adequate high quality housing options offering a continuum of appropriate supportive services levels at all income levels. At a minimum, there must be affordable, assisted living that accommodates the progression to more intensive care for physical and mental health conditions. This includes the needs of those with Alzheimer’s disease. The 2013 report of the Maryland Commission on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders contains important recommendations.
There are many things we can do to make our communities more senior-friendly. I will work in partnership with community groups representing seniors to identify both low-cost and higher-investment ways to improve their lives and living conditions. Also many in-home necessities can be met by volunteers who can help with transportation, food purchases, technology support, handyman help and other basics of daily living. A promising approach that organizes and supports such volunteer programs is the successful “village model” underway in several Baltimore area communities. I will support efforts to expand the model through both public funding and philanthropic support. We stand on the shoulders of our seniors. Our duty now is to stand taller and step up to these challenges.