Presentation looks at the effect baby boomers will have on social services

The burden that the baby boomer population is expected to place on health care, housing and other services locally and nationwide is the topic of a presentation Sunday at Southern Oregon University.

Called "Future Shock: the Longevity Challenge," the presentation will feature a panel of experts exploring ways to deal with the 3.6 million baby boomers expected to reach age 65 each year through 2030.

If you go

What: "Future Shock: the Longevity Challenge," a forum on the repercussions of the aging baby boomer population

When: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, April 15

Where: Rogue River Room, Stevenson Union, Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland

Admission: Free, but preregistration is required by visiting www.sou.edu/olli or calling 541-552-6048

The talk will be from 2 to 4 p.m. in the Rogue River Room at Southern Oregon University, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland. Admission is free but preregistration is required by visiting www.sou.edu/olli or calling 541-552-6048.

"We're looking at a huge demographic, age 70 to 90-plus, that we've never seen before in this or any country, with huge pressures on health care, business and assistance needs," says SOU associate professor John Bowling, one of the keynote speakers.

"People over 60 will have at least one chronic (ailment) and more with age. The old system isn't going to work very well for this many people. We can't do what we've done in the past."

The other keynote speaker is Gerald J. Cohen, director of AARP Oregon. Panelists will include Don Bruland, director of Senior and Disabled Services at Rogue Valley Council of Governments; Dr. John Forsyth, a retired cardiologist and chairman of Choosing Options, Honoring Options; and Ellen Waldman, a geriatric health care manager.

Bowling and Cohen say retirees shouldn't count on big, new government programs to meet their needs, but will likely have to depend on at-home aging, much-expanded volunteerism — especially from their own generation — healthier lifestyles and possibly a graduated Medicare system, so that low-income people pay less and the wealthy pay more.

"It's kind of absurd if people with lots of resources have health care paid by the federal government," Bowling says. "But if it's a sliding scale, we'd save billions of dollars."

On the positive side of aging, Cohen says, people shouldn't get swept up in the idea of a "senior tsunami that's going to destroy the country."

"Think rather about boomers giving back their considerable experience and expertise — and remember that Oregon has been the pioneer in this area, getting past the nursing-home model into a new system of assisted living that has spread across the whole nation," he says.

With very modest changes in Social Security and Medicare, boomers of the "Age Wave" will not drain those systems, which will be there for their children and grandchildren, says Cohen.

Aging boomers, as well as young people, he says, are leaving suburbs because cities are cheaper (especially for transportation, housing and health care), thus giving us "the opportunity to regenerate our cities."

So-called "encore careers" in later life are more available in urban settings, and they do not take jobs away from young people, Cohen says.

"Except for Social Security and Medicare, a third of Americans over 65 would be living in poverty," says Cohen, adding that three-fourths of older women would be living below the poverty line without the help of those programs.

Oregon has programs that "my cohorts in other states salivate over, as they're barely keeping their heads above water," he says.

The boomer wave "will be a burden if we don't do something," he says, such as home-based aging, means-based social programs and modifying city cores using a "village model" that's senior-friendly. These steps are already starting to happen, he adds.

The present model, where physicians provide care as you develop chronic illness, will not be there for boomers, says Forsyth. In the new model, "you'll be put in the hands of health care teams, and that's a good thing — doctor, nurse, social worker and often outreach worker who comes to your home. ... It's really good care with decreased cost and less need for hospital care."

Bruland says the focus of health care will shift to a preventive approach called "living well," with early intervention that helps people to be more effective with the resources they have.

"You maintain your own health, which helps your family to better maintain you and themselves ... instead of waiting until your health and finances deteriorate and the government has to step in," he says.

Housing options include living at home, independent retirement living, assisted living, foster care homes and skilled nursing homes, says Waldman, with boomers preferring aging at home above all options.

She notes that a new concept — making your present neighborhood into a working senior community — is already functioning as "Ashland at Home," under the direction of Jeanne Stallman of SOU's Outreach and Engagement Program.

"Future Shock: the Longevity Challenge" is a Osher Lifelong Learning Institute Vital Issues Forum.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.


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