Aging population presents a challenging future for Senior Services

USELESS BAY — It’s good news mixed with bad news. We’re all getting older together.

USELESS BAY — It’s good news mixed with bad news.

We’re all getting older together.

New numbers from the 2010 Census provide a glimpse of what’s to come for local service providers, Cheryn Weiser told a rapt audience during a broad overview of the future of Senior Services of Island County.

Weiser, the agency’s executive director, outlined the changing times and challenges that Senior Services faces in providing essential services to seniors in Island County at a special presentation late last week at the Useless Bay Country Club.

Senior Services is partway through a strategic planning process, and the private nonprofit hopes to spur networking and partnership opportunities in the community, greater volunteerism, additional local investments and new ways to guarantee access to needed services.

“We’re in this together. We’re all here on this island,” Weiser said before diving into new numbers that detailed the graying of Island County.

“We are living in challenging times,” she said, adding that Senior Services itself is facing a variety of factors that will test the organization in the coming years.

The bleak assessment: People are living longer, their financial status isn’t as strong as those seen in earlier generations, the economy remains uncertain and access to vital services are changing as funding streams dry up.

Weiser ran through the demographics from the recently released 2010 profile of Island County, and added that with every challenge, comes opportunity.

The county has a population of 78,506, according to the 2010 Census, Weiser said, and “41 percent of those people who live here are over 50.”

By 2025, it’s estimated that 54 percent of the county’s population will be over 50.

“There’s no question we’re going to be seeing a lot of growth in the next three decades. We’re really just moving in this direction, and it doesn’t slow down a whole lot,” she said.

Life expectancy is also growing, Weiser said.

Nationwide, life expectancy has grown from 69.8 years in 1960 to 78.2 years in 2010.

In Washington state, the trend has followed a similar path, growing from 69.9 years in 1960 to 79.6 in 2010.

Men in Island County have a longer life expectancy than their counterparts in any other county in the state. The county ranks first in Washington for men, at 79.8 years, and number two for women, at 83.1 years. (Jefferson County ranks second in life expectancy for men, while King County is first for women.)

“There’s a reason why we live here,” Weiser said.

The aging tide of Baby Boomers will face a future unfamiliar to those who have come before, however.

Weiser said two-thirds of the Baby Boomer generation have not set aside enough savings to support their lifestyles as they grow old, and they’ve also seen the value of their homes and investments plummet along with the economy in recent years.

“We all know, I think, that Baby Boomers maybe haven’t saved as much as they need to, and they have spent more than they wanted to or wished they had,” she said.

Weiser said as boomers age amid an increasingly global economy, there will be an increase of part-time workers and a population of highly skilled people who will be looking to supplement their incomes as they postpone full retirement.

“The existing, traditional human services-delivery models are no longer sustainable in this economic environment,” Weiser said.

“Our safety net is being shredded. It’s really pretty stunning.”

The model for long-term care is also changing, from institutional settings to people who want to “age in place” by staying in their own homes.

Eligibility requirements are also getting tighter for some programs, and access to in-home assistance will continue to decline.

For Senior Services — which provides programs such as Meals on Wheels, adult day services, information and other assistance — work needs to begin now to mobilize people to become self-sufficient, Weiser said, while finding ways to sustain the safety net that an aging population will need.

“We all sort of have to lock arms around this,” she said.

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