Challenges Facing our Seniors

By  Don MacGillivray


Every day 10,000 people in the United States turn 65 and Oregon is seeing a migration of seniors from all over the nation.

52% of seniors are economically insecure. Almost half own their own homes and many still have mortgages. Many over 65 already have chronic medical conditions. The fastest growing segment of the elderly population is the homeless. The difficulties of a changing society greatly affect the elderly.

By 2030 one in five people is expected to be over 65. Income is just one issue. Many will be on Social Security without other sources of income. Medicare will be a lifesaver for many, but these benefits are not comprehensive.

As people age, they can slowly develop health issues that may reduce their quality of life, their mobility, their social activities, and their finances.

Those that have planned for retirement successfully can look forward to a great many lifestyle options. Those that are ill-prepared for old age face many fewer opportunities and must make due as they can with what is available.

Those that are well and mobile can get by on a minimum income by downsizing their lifestyle, but as one gets older, health becomes the greatest challenge among many potential problems.

Since the mid 1930s, the government has tried to address elder problems, but they are unlikely to have the resources to care for everyone in need of help. Charities do as much as they can and, while their work is noble, they too have limitations. Both of these sources have limited funds, but are often a resource for information and referral.

Portland is a leader in the realm of senior living. Many innovations have begun here such as Oregon Project Independence (OPI). OPI serves individuals who are age 60 and older. It provides in-home services to seniors requiring the same level of care as in a nursing homes, but who typically do not qualify for Medicaid.

Housing becomes problematic for low income seniors. Many will pay more than 30% of their income in rent and much more for assisted or supportive care situations. Of those that qualify for federal housing assistance, only 36% will receive it. With the political realities what they are, it is unlikely the situation will improve.

There are roughly 300,000 federally assisted housing units reserved for older adults nationally. There are also 1.4 million individuals over the age of 50 using tenant-based vouchers or living in public housing. A large share of this affordable housing is threatened.

According to AARP 2010 figures, 70% or  900,000 units with rental assistance will expire soon unless property owners choose to renew their contacts.

The Fair Housing Act of 1968 and subsequent amendments prohibit discrimination in the sale, rental and financing of dwellings on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex/gender, familial status and disability. There are federal and state agencies that will enforce these and other similar requirements.

Multnomah County Aging and Disability Services Division are available to help seniors with these and many other circumstances of senior living. Elders in Action is another excellent source of help and information.

There are eight Portland senior service centers that provide a variety of activities and assistance to over sixty thousand participants a year.  In SE, Impact Northwest is the area center. Impact Northwest  contributes over 5,000 hours of volunteer services per year that are valued at $70,000.

Portland must identify and strengthen resources that will improve the lives of older citizens. Older adults represent one of the few natural resources increasing in Portland. Senior citizens must be able to be employed, to volunteer, and to participate in civic activities. One solution might be to help seniors supplement their income by working part time.

Housing has been identified as a critical need if Portland is to be friendly to people of all ages. To house our aging population, options must be accessible, affordable, healthy, secure and must facilitate social interaction.

Transportation is all about mobility and independence. It is critically important to creating an age-friendly city. It must be in close proximity to all types of housing as well as the availability of local goods and services.

Portland’s physical environments such as indoor and outdoor urban spaces require considerable attention to ensure their use by all. They can be some of the least age-friendly aspects of the city by inhibiting their use by elderly citizens.

Communication and the access to information in today’s society is especially important. The move toward communicating through digital forms may not be the preference of older adults. Print media and other established types of media will remain important even though most will have access to the internet.

Community and health service will be one of the most important aspects of an age-friendly city. It will be critical to create a system of services and care in Portland that meets the needs of an aging population.

In the City of Portland, many at Multnomah County, and at Portland State University are working on these issue and results should be continuously apparent in future years.

By encouraging everyone to work together it will be possible to further improve the health and sustainability of Portland residents.

Challenges Facing our Seniors

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