January 17

Maine summit tackles challenges of aging population

The Augusta event keeps the conversation going in an effort to influence public policy.

By Kelley Bouchard kbouchard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — More than 370 Mainers gathered in the state capital Friday to help hammer out an action plan to address various challenges Maine faces because it has a rapidly aging population.

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Stephanie Cotsirilos facilitates a session during the Maine Summit on Aging on Friday in Augusta.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

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Author Joan MacCracken of Brooksville speaks Friday at the Maine Summit on Aging.

Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Maine Summit on Aging, held at the Augusta Civic Center, focused on the need to build aging-friendly communities and developed outlines for policy initiatives that may lead to legislation related to elder housing, health care, transportation and workforce development.

In the areas of housing and transportation, in particular, summit participants called for efforts to promote home-sharing among seniors, increase support of public transportation and volunteer ride programs, and require statewide planning to create communities that are welcoming to people of all ages.

“We need to embrace interdependence to have continued independence,” said Joan MacCracken, a retired pediatrician, during an afternoon work session at which about 50 participants hashed out senior housing and transportation issues.

MacCracken, who lives in Brooksville, last year published a novel, “The Winter House,” about four 70-something women who decide to live together. MacCracken said home-sharing is an example of how seniors can “give up a little to hold onto a lot.”

Maine is the oldest state based on median age (43.5 years) and the second-oldest based on the proportion of people 65 and older (17 percent), according to the U.S. Census. Florida is No. 1 with 18.2 percent.

Maine also has the highest proportion of baby boomers – 29 percent of its 1.3 million residents were born in the period from 1946 to 1964.

The daylong summit was hosted by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and the Maine Council on Aging, with funding from the John T. Gorman Foundation of Portland. It follows four smaller round-table talks on aging issues that were held last fall.

The council will publish goals developed by several working groups at the summit within a month, said summit organizer Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

The goals will be further refined to provide action plans for policy initiatives to improve health care and transportation, increase senior housing and long-term care options, support caregivers, prevent elder abuse, keep seniors in the workforce longer, and attract younger workers to Maine.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Eves said during his opening address. “We need to keep the conversation going if we’re going to influence public policy.”

Eves noted the work being done by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram in examining the various impacts of Maine’s aging population in a special investigative series, “The Challenge of Our Age.”

Speakers on the summit’s morning panels included Linda Jariz, a member of the Aging Advisory Committee in Bowdoinham that is dedicated to “helping older adults stay in town as long as possible,” and Tony Levesque, community development director in Fort Fairfield, which has taken innovative steps to develop senior housing.

“The baby boom will continue to shape the physical nature of places as it always has,” said Evan Richert, a land-use planning consultant who is Orono’s town planner.

Other morning speakers were Charles Colgan, an economist and professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine; Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of The Cianbro Cos.; Dr. Lisa Letourneau, executive director of Maine Quality Counts; and Judy Shaw, administrator of the Maine Office of Securities and a member of the Maine Council on Elder Abuse

Sen. Angus King of Maine gave the closing address.

King noted that Maine faces a worker shortage because retirements are outpacing births. He said employers must “make the working world more welcoming to seniors who may not want to work 40 hours.”

King also said Web technology that monitors home environments with cameras and medical equipment will help elders stay in their homes and out of institutions.

“Life doesn’t end when you’re 70 years old,” said King, who is 69. “I feel better because I’m active and engaged.”

Kelley Bouchard can be reached at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: @KelleyBouchard

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