Boom Baby Boom

BY TAYLOR BROOKS

By the end of 1945 World War II ended, American troops were returning home, and birth rates began to steadily increase giving rise to a generation we now refer to as the “baby boomers.”

During this demographic boom nearly 79 million Americans were born. Due to advances in medicine and modern technology these individuals, the first of whom celebrated their 60th birthdays in 2006, are experiencing much longer lifespans.

With more than 72 million Americans over the age of 65 by the year 2030, what can be done to assist this large group as they age?

Athens Community Council on Aging member Madeline Van Dyck explained: “Our graves used to be filled with people who died from phenomena, and child birth complications, we now have antibiotics and anesthetics, so people don’t easily die anymore, when they otherwise would have.”

This very same trend is happening in many communities around the nation, but more specifically in college towns, like Athens. The Athens Community Council on Aging became aware of the growing number of boomers and created the Athens Area Village to accommodate aging citizens’ needs.

Van Dyck states, “2012 marked the beginning for the next 18 years of the second ‘silver tsunami,’ which is made up of the members of the baby boomer generation; in a way, demographically, this has not been represented before. We now have the sixty-something-year-old and the eighty-something-year-old in the marketplace and we [boomers] are the ones holding the wealth for the most part, so it’s a huge consumer market.”

According to the 2010 US Census there are 9,952 citizens ages 65 years and older in Athens-Clarke County. This makes up 8.5 percent of the total population. The National Institute on Aging predicts that “by 2030 almost 1 out of every 5 Americans – some 72 million people – will be 65 years or over.”

The Classic City has also been cited as a popular retirement destination in the past several years. In 2013 Forbes and AARP named Athens as one of the top places to retire in the country and U.S. News and World Report listed Athens as one of the cities to which baby boomers will move.

Boomers are attracted to the Athens-Clarke County area for the rich culture and atmosphere, relatively low cost of living, affordable and available healthcare in the area, a less congested environment, and possibilities for continued education through the University of Georgia through programs such as the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

In 2012, in response to the “silver tsunamis,” the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) started the Athens Area Village to accommodate the growing numbers of adults over the age of 50 in the Athens area.

The program is designed after the Beacon Hill Village in Boston, Massacusettes. Their mission was to provide aging citizens assistance by using local resources and volunteers and provide a way for aging adults to do so within their own community.

Beacon Hill Village began in February 2002 and quickly became a trendsetter for assisting aging adults over 50 to age comfortably in their own homes and communities. In 2006 the Beacon Hill Village published “The Village Concept: A Founder’s Manual” which shared experiences and advice for creating a new village.

The Athens Area Village is the first village program in Georgia and serves as the model for the state as well.

The Athens Area Village, much like the Beacon Hill Village it is modeled after, provides services for adults over the age of 50. Volunteers from around the community offer services to Village members, who pay an annual membership fee.

The Athens Area Village has no physical location, but is made up of a community of volunteers and service providers from the Athens area that offer personalized assistance for Village members.

Unlike retirement communities or nursing homes, the Athens Area Village program allows aging adults to the freedom to age in their own homes and receive volunteer help or services as needed. The Athens Community Council on Aging does however have an office in Athens located on Hoyt Street.

“You have your members, your volunteers, and your providers,” Said Matte Barkdoll, a social worker at the ACCA. “Providers go through a vetting process and then they often offer a small discount to our village members. So our main focus is to have our members remain in their homes, age comfortably in place, and provide community and volunteer services like assistance in transportation and simple home repairs that help our members to remain comfortably where they are living.”

The Athens Area Village also offers a variety of additional services to it’s members including: fitness classes, special events, book clubs, and outings around the Athens community.

Other establishments in Athens also provide services for aging adults and disabled citizens. Iris Place which opened its doors in Athens in 2000 is an independent living community which also provides services for aging adults.

Members of this group live within the Iris Place Community, pay rent (including all utility expenses), are provided with three meals a day, and a variety of activities and events offered through the community.

Iris Place has 22 condo spaces and 118 apartments. In regards to whether Iris Place would be able to accommodate an influx of aging individuals in the community, manager Ken Grindele stated: “We’re at a limit now.”

For more serious care-related issues, facilities such as Arbor Terrace offer assistance and facilities for anyone who needs assistance.

Judee Odonell, a worker at Arbor Terrace said “Most of our residents are over a certain age, or simply people due to health-related issues that need help with medication management or a great deal more. For those that have serious dementia or Alzheimer issues, we have a memory care unit for that.”

While both types of assistance and care are necessary within a growing community, the Athens Area Village has adopted an innovative way of providing assistance for aging adults in their homes.

“What is happening is we are aggressively under-cared for across the frailty continuum of aging until we are suddenly permanently over-cared for. This means, we [boomers] have to find a way to die more gracefully, which is coming. Now there are these huge aging dynamically and wisely movements all around the country. Hospice is now not the last three days, but the last three years.” Said Van Dyck.

The Athens Area Village has adopted an innovative approach to assist aging adults in our community at a low cost, comfortable lifestyle, and ultimate ease. When faced with the question of if the Athens Area village could accommodate a large increase of members in the next several years, social worker Matte Barkdoll responded with a resounding “Absolutely.”

The Athens Area Village’s reliance on volunteer work and no risk of reaching a physical capacity with facilities, the program has potential for growth.

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