Montgomery County's population is aging rapidly and traditional means of caring for an elderly population will no longer suffice, according to a panel of experts on aging and senior adult issues.
The Montgomery County Council on Tuesday met with the panel for a discussion about the future of Montgomery County's aging population. The panel's thoughts echoed those of economist Stephen Fuller's presentation last fall: the dynamic of the nation's aging population is changing— older adults are working longer and want to remain active members of the community. For many older adults, nursing homes and institutionalized caregiving is on the way out, while a familiar theme of diverse housing based around transportation and accessibility is in.
“Creating walkable communities where people can live independently from the automobile, frankly, is essential," said Councilmember Hans Riemer (D-At Large), of Silver Spring, after the presentation. "A lot of times there’s a discussion that when we create multifamily housing – apartments, condos – we’re catering to this hipster crowd in their 20s. But there is a large demographic that we’re also catering to.”
The American Association of Retired Persons counts nearly 845,000 in Maryland and 144,000 in Montgomery County alone, according to Hank Greenburg, AARP Maryland state director. But while Maryland has lead the way in many healthcare initiatives, the state falls far behind in providing long-term care and housing options for seniors, ranking 45th in the nation Greenburg said.
With 90 percent of aging adults wanting to remain in their homes and communities for as long as possible, Montgomery County should focus on “aging in place,” Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, told the council.
The county needs to create opportunities for housing and transportation that suit aging adults, while providing multiple alternative care options, Markwood said. The county should look at diverse options including zoning communities to allow for easy access to transportation, for remodeling existing houses, to include accessory dwellings and to add homes with provided services.
“If you want to go forward and stop dead in your tracks, come out with a big plan of "Here is a house for seniors," and try to sell that," said Elinor Ginzler, director of the Cahnmann Center for Supportive Services in Rockville. "But if you say, 'Here is a house for all, no matter what your age, whether you’re trying to carry in a wide screen TV or roller blade out the door, or you need a walker, this is the design for you'— that’s going to work.”
With a focus on outdoor spaces, transportation, housing, social and civic participation, employment and health services, the county will be better able to meet the needs of its aging population, the panel said.
“Look at this as meeting the needs of the current population of older adults and the future population of older adults, and recognize that it’s not static," Markwood said. "When you do that you’re investing in the future of all generations."