Health Care

PA, other state governments try to prepare for the ‘silver tsunami’

About 10,000 Americans are turning 65 every day. As the nation’s aging population continues to climb, states and the federal government are working to get plans in place to care for older adults.

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By Susan Miller

More Americans are about to be 65 years old than ever before. A record number will hit the milestone this year – about 4.1 million. But it’s just one of many waves in the “silver tsunami,” a metaphor often used to describe the aging of America. Since 2011, 10,000 Americans have been turning 65 every day, a trend that the Pew Research Center says will continue through 2030.

Indeed, the number of people 65 years old or older makes up 18% of the population today. That percentage will swell to 23% by 2054. The trend has major implications for government as the overall population will put a greater strain on health and long-term care services and increasingly call for assistance with housing and transportation. Amid this precipitous rise, governments are scrambling to prepare to care for their aging populations. Last week, the federal government took a big step in that direction with a report outlining recommendations for advancing healthy aging and age-friendly communities. 

The report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services describes the opportunities and challenges of an aging population and defines goals and objectives for addressing critical aging issues. It details the web of services an aging society will need beyond financial security, safe housing and adequate health care, such as accessible communities, age-friendly workplaces and high-quality, long-term services and supports.

“As life expectancy rises, we have a unique opportunity to redefine what it means to grow older,” said Debra Houry, chief medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “This framework serves as a roadmap for building age-friendly communities that prioritize the health and well-being of older adults.”

The framework, which was developed by experts from 16 federal agencies in partnership with community leaders in the aging services network, comes as several states have also started planning for their aging populations.

Last week, Pennsylvania unveiled its master plan to care for older adults. The Keystone State is the fifth-oldest state in the nation, and the number of residents 60 and over is projected to surpass 3.8 million – or one-third of the population – by 2030. The commonwealth’s plan, called Aging Our Way, PA, is a roadmap for improving “the way older adults are cared for, how they receive and connect to services and supports, and how they can get the most out of their communities to age in place,” said Department of Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich.

The 10-year plan, released the day after the federal strategic framework, has five priority areas: affordability, aging in place, safe and convenient transportation, caregiver support and navigation services that make it easier for older adults to find the services they need. The plan also includes 36 strategies and 163 tactics like policy proposals, legislation, funding requests and more.

New Jersey also released its “age-friendly blueprint” last week. The Garden State and Pennsylvania are the fifth and sixth states to release their master plans on aging, joining California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and Vermont.

New Jersey’s blueprint provides strategies and best practices to improve the state’s communities for older adults and enable people to remain in their homes and communities as they age. It provides recommendations related to housing, health care, transportation, socialization, employment, communication and outreach. The recommendations are designed to improve communities’ accessibility and make it easier for residents to access the long-term services and support that will allow them to remain in their homes and connected to their loved ones as they age.

The state is also putting some funding behind its plan. The New Jersey Human Services Department is dedicating $5.5 million to launch an age-friendly community grant program later this year. The program will help communities advance age-friendly practices, prioritizing those in the blueprint.

Other states have also gone beyond master plans and outlining goals to create grant programs to help communities start acting on their age-friendly plans.

In early May, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healy announced $2.4 million in awards to 20 organizations and communities across the commonwealth to help community organizations expand or launch programs for older adults and individuals with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. 

Maryland this year offered a Healthy Aging Competitive Grant Opportunity designed to encourage aging safely at home and to improve the life quality of those living in group or community housing settings. It also aims to reduce hospitalizations and higher levels of care that require residents to spend down their incomes and require Medicaid support.

Ohio’s Healthy Aging Grants program provides $40 million for local aging services that help Ohioans ages 60 and older stay healthy and maintain their independence. Funds are being distributed to all 88 counties to bolster critical aging support services, such as food and housing assistance, as well as internet access and digital literacy services. In March, the Ohio Department of Aging announced over $6 million in grant funding for 22 projects that will revitalize and expand adult day services in communities across the state.

As of May, 13 states are in early stages of developing so-called multi-sector plans for aging, a 10-year plan for restructuring state and local government to address the needs of older adult populations. According to the federal strategic framework, four states have legislation or an executive order to develop an MPA, and seven are in varying stages of implementing plans.

The HHS strategic framework “represents a first-of-its-kind and much-needed primer for local, state and federal leaders in the United States, outlining exactly what it will take to support the nation’s growing population of older adults,” said Rear Adm. Paul Reed, HHS deputy assistant secretary for health, in a statement. “By identifying the unique needs of older adults living in the United States and the necessary resources and tools to promote their health and well-being, this report is a critical step toward developing and implementing systemic solutions to help older adults thrive.”

Susan Miller is deputy editor at Route Fifty, where this story first appeared.