Maine cares about its seniors. The state is trying to serve them better by using a two-pronged approach. First, the state seeks to dialogue with its people about what matters most to them. Then the state will step in to fill those needs. One way of achieving this was to convene the 2016 Maine Summit on Aging on September 21st. This Summit on Aging was the third of its kind.
In keeping with the theme “It (Still) Takes a Village,” The Maine Council on Aging invited representatives from both the public and private sectors. Seniorsmatter.com was present. These groups showcased their current and potential efforts on behalf of seniors. They demonstrated how continued work and financial assistance in various areas can continue to increase the quality of life for Maine’s seniors. Here are a few brief highlights from the summit.
Community Matters in Caregiving
Defining a community around seniors can prove difficult. Does it include just their direct caregivers? Their extended families? What about their neighbors and doctors? The entire town? The answer is “All of the above.” At the 2016 Maine Summit on Aging, the keynote presentation focused on just that: strengthening communities. Advocates for the aged often work hard to make magical things happen for those they care for. Their reach can extend even further, though, if their scope includes people who are currently unaware of how senior welfare affects everyone. By reaching out to larger communities—religious organizations, local schools and universities, policymakers, and more—advocates can have greater impact.
“It (Still) Takes a Village,”
This brings up another important point: asking for help should be a normal part of the caregiving process. Caregivers can feel isolated and alone, or pride may come into play, or both, but nothing should prevent caregivers from expanding the circle of care. Communities, being larger and stronger than individuals, are able to bear the load of senior care more easily. Caregivers, then, do well to remember that the next time they need help, they should ask for it.
Housing and Dementia—Important Issues for Seniors and Caregivers
As Baby Boomers reach senior status, they place increasing demands on the systems in place. Housing, for example, needs to accommodate seniors who live with extended families or who choose to live independently but safely. Currently, such housing is limited and often expensive, meaning that some seniors cannot afford to live in safe, comfortable conditions. Since aging in place either in their own home or with family has proven to extend seniors’ lives, it should be a priority for policymakers, advocates, and healthcare providers to create new and affordable housing for seniors.
Cases of dementia are on the rise. Thousands of seniors and their loved ones are affected each day. Since dementia creates especially dangerous conditions for seniors, such as confusion, aggression, anxiety, hallucinations, and balance issues, the healthcare field must pair with caregivers. Finding cures and managing underlying conditions, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, or chronic pain, are important fields of research. Advocating for the funding of such research is vital to ensuring longer, healthier lives for seniors and future generations.
Access Is Essential for Seniors and Caregivers
One of the dominating themes of the summit was that seniors and their caregivers must have access to services. In addition, public education efforts that center on senior issues must emerge, and soon. When the public understands the challenges facing seniors, people are often moved to action.
For example, many may not know that low-income seniors can suffer unduly from illnesses or take fatal falls due to a lack of access to regular services. The average person may not know that seniors with dementia can wander away from home and become confused, endangering themselves. Making services more available to seniors, adding new services onto existing community efforts, and increasing public awareness are important parts of public action to help seniors.
Maine Summit on Aging – The Importance of Action
More than any other theme, the Maine Council on Aging hoped to spread the message that activism is everything. Those who want change on behalf of their elderly loved ones must begin by demanding change and working within a community of caregivers.
Social media, the Seniorsmatter.com website (most specifically, the forums), and local community organizations already have sparked conversations about seniors’ needs. A local Area Agency on Aging (or equivalent organization) can help, too, and will provide information on what support is available in a given locale.
Regardless of how one finds one’s community of support, finding it can lead to revolutionary action and help for seniors.
Maine Council on Aging. 2016 Maine Summit on Aging. Maine Council on Aging. Available at http://mainecouncilonaging.org/new/. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
Maine Council on Aging. Aging the Way It Should Be. Maine Council on Aging. Available at http://www.mainecouncilonaging.org/. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
Maine Council on Aging. Facebook Page. Maine Council on Aging. Available at https://www.facebook.com/MaineCouncilonAging/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED&fref=nf. Retrieved October 1, 2016.
Pafundi, Jason. (September 21, 2016). Summit on Aging mulls strategies to keep older Mainers healthy, happy. Kennebec Journal. Available at http://www.centralmaine.com/2016/09/21/summit-on-aging-mulls-strategies-to-keep-older-mainers-healthy-happy/. Retrieved October 1, 2016.