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Getting ready for the age wave: Baby boomers turning 85? It’s just around the corner

Tom Cherveny / Tribune Mary Ims, Living at Home program director in Granite Falls, talks Tuesday about the difficulty of recruiting volunteers as today's newly retired are living more active and busy lives. She was among participants at a community conversation in Granite Falls about the state's aging population hosted by the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging.1 / 3
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Meagan Boutin of Countryside Public Health reports Tuesday on issues facing rural communities as the population ages. She was a participant in a community conservation on the age wave hosted by the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging in Granite Falls. 2 / 3
Tom Cherveny / Tribune Housing, transportation and technology needs were among the issues raised Tuesday in Granite Falls where a community conversation was hosted by the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging. Participating in a small group discussion are, from left, Jerry Brustuen, Renville County Health and Human Services director; Jean Stacy, elderly coordinator, Lower Sioux Community; and Meagan Boutin, Countryside Public Health. 3 / 3

GRANITE FALLS — This is Minnesota, and soon:

By 2020 retirees will outnumber school-age children.

By 2030, when the first of the baby boomers turn 85, a full three-fourths of the state's population will be considered elderly, age 50-plus.

These are the projections of the Minnesota Department of Human Service's 2010 Blueprint for Preparing Minnesota for the Age Wave, and the focus of its Minnesota 2030 Project to prepare for the year when the first of the baby boomers turn 85.

One thing will be the same: "People want to stay here and age in place,'' said Jamie Enger-Lanners, a program developer with the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging. Enger-Lanners and Betty Christensen, also with the Area Agency on Aging, led a "community conversation'' Tuesday in Granite Falls with those providing services to the elderly.

As during similar conversations around southwest Minnesota, the participants raised issues they believe the changing demographics create in hopes policymakers can begin addressing them.

Transportation, housing and technology were recurring themes at the Granite Falls session, and many of the other sessions too, according to Engers-Lanners and Christensen.

The housing issues are already showing themselves. Cindy Grosklags, a supervisor with the Renville County Health and Human Services office, said that many senior citizens are remaining in their homes because there is a lack of the type of housing they want in their rural communities. They would like to find newly built, smaller, single-story homes but instead remain in spacious, multi-floor and older dwellings.

The lack of mobility has created a housing crunch for young people who can't find the affordable starter homes the seniors continue to inhabit, she said.

Many want to stay in their rural homes, no matter what, Engers-Lanners said. At sessions in southern Minnesota, she has heard from people who are adamant about staying on the farm place well into their senior years. That presents many issues in terms of transportation and the delivery of services, she said.

Many of the services now available to meet the needs of seniors, such as for transportation, are provided by volunteers. Mary Ims, director of the Living at Home block nurse program in Granite Falls, told participants they are already seeing more challenges in finding volunteers to provide them.

Today's newly retired are more active and have goals to pursue, making it more difficult to recruit them, she explained.

Can technology help fill the gaps? At the session in Granite Falls, there was discussion about everything from a Uber-style volunteer transportation network to driverless cars and home-delivered telemedicine services.

Enger-Lanners said that when it comes to technology issues, there's a pronounced difference in how rural and urban participants view them.

At sessions in urban areas, people expect technology to play a big role, and have expectations of everything from drones delivering prescription medicines and groceries to the door to robots assisting with home chores.

In rural areas, she said many are still concerned whether the infrastructure will be available for those types of services.

"We love the idea of technology, but you leave the city limits (and) you don't have internet access,'' she said.

Rural participants anticipate a continued gap between urban and rural when it comes to technology services, she explained.

The other major difference she has heard between rural and urban areas is the need for socialization. Rural participants emphasized the importance of providing opportunities so that senior citizens can remain engaged with other people, and not become isolated.

The issue is not as often raised in urban settings, where participants imagine a future where more are living in apartments and congregate housing situations.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335
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