Are you aware of the word "gerontology"? Webster defines it as "the scientific study of the process of aging and of the problems of aged people." We are beginning to see some new action dealing with this problem.
Our Kansas AARP is launcing a new "network" to foster a new term called "age friendly." It is one of seven states and the District of Columbia piloting the forming of "Age-Friendly Communities." It is designed to educate, encourage, promote and recognize improvements that make cities, towns and counties more user-friendly not only for older people but for residents of all ages.
I'm sure you know aging people are the fastest growing section of our population, both now and into our future. Mary Tritsch of the Kansas AARP office said, "From now until 2030, Kansas and all states will see a rapid acceleration in the growth of their elderly populations, as baby boomers turn 65."
To put it in perspective, the "oldest" city in America today is Scottsdale, Ariz. One in five of their residents -- 20 percent -- is 65 and older. By 2030, the entire United States will look like today's "oldest" city as 19.7 percent of our residents will be 65 and older.
Maren Turner, AARP Kansas Director, a smart lady, said, "Between now and 2030, Kansas population will see 52.8 percent growth."
Where does Ellis County stand now? As of last census figures I have, dated July 2008, residents of Ellis County who are 65 and older account for 15.1 percent of the population. Those who are 60 and older account for 19.1 percent of the population. The census shows in 2008, there were 5,308 in Ellis County who were 60 years of age and older. Within that figure were 768 people who were 85 years of age and older.
I make no claims I understand all of the implications involved in geriatrics, but I have had enough experience to be aware of the business of growing old. It seems to me, in many respects, aging is similar to being a war veteran. We can talk about it, think about it, etc., but you don't really know about it until you have been there. I taught human development at the university for 18 years, spent six years in the Kansas Silver Haired Legislature and 12 years with the AARP state legislature and was in contact with many aging problems. And, now I am one of the aging.
What we can do to benefit the aging? The apparent reason for this "age-friendly" movement is, first, to learn what the problems are and then to learn what we need to do. Most of us have had the experiences of seeing our parents age.
Each of these situations will be different from others, so there will be many answers.
What can we do that would fit the category of "age-friendly"? I heard a man at our AARP meeting a few days ago say he likes to walk to the store, but there are no places to sit and rest on the way. I notice Walmart has added a couple of new benches to use while your wife is shopping and some electric carts for the handicapped. I had a great experience last week at Walmart when I was looking at water-softener salt and a young man, a total stranger, said, "Here, let me pick up that sack for you." It seems to me these things can qualify for being "age-friendly."
What about a true Senior Center? I know we have the senior center where meals are served, but it is open only a few hours Monday through Friday. I am talking of a center that would be available throughout a full day where people feel welcome and could enjoy it. Loneliness is one of the big problems of aging and could be helped if such a center could be available where groups could be formed and meet.
My wife was present at a northwest Kansas meeting Saturday, which included many people from many towns. She said people were surprised to learn Hays does not have a real senior center. We were in Greensburg a few months ago for the funeral of a close friend and saw the new Senior Center, a beautiful building. With all of Greensburg's trials from the tornado, they apparently considered the senior center to be important. I also saw the new senior center in Oberlin, a town of approximately 1,800 people. Maybe we need to ask ourselves in Hays: "What have we done for the seniors?" And then, what can we do?
Arris Johnson is a member of the Generations Advisory Group.