2018-01-12 / Front Page

Bath talk focuses on age-friendly communities

BY NATHAN STROUT
Times Record Staff


MARY LOU CIOLFI MARY LOU CIOLFI BATH

Maine has the oldest population of any state, and its number of elderly residents will only grow in the coming years.

With that in mind, community leaders and concerned citizens from in and around Bath gathered at the Patten Free Library on Thursday to discuss what can be done to make the area a more livable, age-friendly community.

“For a number of years I’ve had a great concern about our area,” said former Bath City Councilor Ruth Lawson-Stopps. “I don’t think we’re a lot different than most communities, but I’ve had a great concern about what is this community like for people with disabilities, people as they age. Are we really prepared for that?

“I think some nice efforts have been made,” she added. “Good efforts have been made, but I think every community can take a look and say: Gee, I think we could do a lot better.”


PATRICIA OH PATRICIA OH The conversation on Thursday was the first of two taking place in Bath to see if there is support for a regional approach to addressing aging issues in the towns of Arrowsic, Bath, Georgetown, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich.

“We are the oldest state by median age, which is now over 44 years,” said Mary Lou Ciolfi, former senior policy associate, Disability and Aging Program at the Muskie School at the University of Southern Maine.

That fact isn’t likely to change in the coming years unless statewide trends reverse.

“Maine’s population has really been flat for a while and is projected to shrink through 2025,” she added.

As the population shrinks, the percentage of residents older than age 65 is expected to increase, a trend that is already apparent in some Midcoast communities. In Arrowsic, the population has dropped by 100 people from 2010 through 2017, according to data presented by Ciolfi. Meanwhile, the number of older residents has increased, leaving the town with 34.5 percent of the population older than 65. While Arrowsic might have the largest percentage of elderly individuals in the area, other communities are heading in that direction.

“More than one in four people in Maine will be over the age of 65 in less than 15 years,” said Ciolfi.

The increased aging population could put a strain on those who remain in the workforce, she added, as elderly individuals often require more services as they age.

“The main point of this is that there are very few workers to help carry the burden for those of us who may need support and services in our communities as we age,” she said.

But that doesn’t necessarily signal doom and gloom for Maine, said Patricia Oh, age-friendly consultant with AARP Maine.

“We hear this horrible term, the silver tsunami, and all these old people are going to be coming into our communities and there going to sap all the resources and they’re going to leave desolation behind them,” said Oh. “Well I don’t think so. I really think it’s more of a golden reservoir of opportunity.”

According to Oh, 45 Maine communities have joined AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities, almost a quarter of such communities nationwide.

“An age-friendly community is a place where age and ability are not barriers to full inclusion in the social, economic, cultural, spiritual — every aspect of community that you can think of. Everybody is included,” explained Oh. “In an age-friendly municipality, the town government adopts policies, makes infrastructure changes and fosters services that will make sure everybody in the community has access to what they need in order to thrive.”

With the basic issues at play introduced, community members will regroup in a month to discuss exactly how they want to organize to advance an age-friendly agenda in the Bath area.

“(In) that session, we’ll be looking a little bit at what are some models, what are some things that have worked in some other places,” said Lawson-Stopps. “The big question is going to be: ‘Where do we go from here?’”

The next meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at Patten Free Library.

nstrout@timesrecord.com

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