Director: ‘Elderhood’ is to be celebrated not fearedWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ohio’s population is aging — but Ohio Department of Aging Director Bonnie K. Burman doesn’t see that as a bad thing. She sees it as an opportunity.
Speaking at a Kiwanis Club of Toledo meeting during a visit to Northwest Ohio on Dec. 4, Burman pointed out that many people are living longer thanks to advances in health care, technology, public health practices and more.
“You hear every day when people talk about the aging of our population: We’ve got a problem, we’ve got an issue, our population is getting older,” Burman said. “When else have you ever heard people talk about the result of successes as a problem?”
Between 2010 and 2030, the percentage of Lucas County’s population that is 60 and older is projected to rise from 18 percent to 27 percent. Wood County’s is expected to rise from 17 percent to nearly 25 percent. By 2030, half the state’s counties are projected to have senior populations greater than 30 percent, with nine greater than 35 percent. Ottawa County, which has one of the highest percentages of seniors in the state, is expected to jump from 26 percent to 42 percent.
“If this is a result of all our successes, why aren’t we celebrating?” Burman said. “Instead you’ll hear things like, ‘Shoot me if I ever need care.’ You’ve heard it. Why do people say things like, ‘I don’t want to get older?
“They don’t want to think about it because they fear this part of their lives,” Burman said. “How can we expect people to plan for it if you don’t look forward to it?”
The key is getting people to change the way they look at aging, Burman said. Society needs to stop viewing “elderhood” as a period of inevitable decline; most seniors are able and will continue to “grow, thrive and contribute” for years, she said.
She asked club members to think of their own grandparents and those who “have an enormous amount of wisdom and so much to offer.”
“Think about that influence in your life. Think about what we learn from our elders and you realize how important elderhood really is,” Burman said. “We need to see them an individuals who continue to grow, continue to thrive, continue to contribute.
“Instead of saying, ‘How are we going to pay for this?’ what everyone in this room should be saying is ‘Yeehaw, we’ve got more people who are going to be giving back to society.’ Because they care deeply,” Burman said.
One option for local seniors is through the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), operated in Northwest Ohio through the Area Office on Aging (AOoA).
“It gives them a commitment and involvement and keeps them current in their community,” said Sally Davies, director of the RSVP program at AOoA.
Carol Borton of Sylvania is an RSVP volunteer with Project MORE (Mentoring in Ohio for Reading Excellence). She works with two children on their reading once a week at Kids Unlimited Academy
“I enjoy interacting with kids and seeing them succeed,” Borton said. “I’m always amazed at their improvement even in that 30 minutes.”
Project MORE is a 15-year-old program operating in about 300 schools statewide, said Amy Freeman, Project MORE director. Other local schools offering the program include Eagle Academy and Northpointe Academy in Lucas County and Bowling Green, Elmwood, Grand Rapids, Otsego and Perrysburg in Wood County.
Programs like Project MORE benefit the seniors just as much as the students, said Justin Moor, AOoA’s vice president of planning and program development.
“Students realize seniors are vibrant, active people who are involved in the community and making a difference and seniors get to see some real positives about the younger generations,” Moor said. “Students are thirsty for someone to believe in them and they get that with the RSVP program.”
For those seniors who do require care, it needs to be “person-centered,” Burman said.
“Every single person who needs care in our state should have that care delivered in a way that is designed just for them,” she said. “I’ve never met two people who were exactly alike so why should their care plans be alike?”
Consistent relationships with care givers and a sense of control over surroundings is what makes a living situation a home and not just a house, whether they are actually at home or living in a facility, Burman said.
“If we don’t care enough about that elder to find out who they are and what they want, than that person is only living in a house,” Burson said. “You are institutionalized in your own home.”
Feeling at home is important for a senior’s quality of life, Burman said, referencing the displaced residents of Toledo’s Alpha Towers — a housing complex near Downtown Toledo home to many seniors that was evacuated Dec. 2 after problems with its interior sprinkler system caused flooding.
“When you give people the highest quality of life, they are healthier, they are functioning at a higher level and guess what? Our costs go down, they are happier, their families are happier,” she said. “It’s very rare in life that you have these wonderful win-win-win situations.”
Tags: Alpha Towers, Amy Freeman Project MORE director, Area Office on Aging (AOoA), Bowling Green, Eagle Academy, elderhood, Elmwood, Grand Rapids, Kiwanis Club of Toledo, Lucas County, Northpointe Academy, Ohio Department of Aging Director Bonnie K. Burman, Otsego, Perrysburg, Person-centered care, Project MORE, Project MORE (Mentoring in Ohio for Reading Excellence), Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), Toledo's Alpha Towers, Wood County