Governor's Summit On Aging: What's Next?

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Did you know that 10,000 people in our country will celebrate their 65th birthdays every day until 2030?

Wow! Is our nation ready for that? What about Tennessee? Nearly one quarter of all Tennesseans will be 60 or older in 2030.

We already have a significant older population – with more than 1 million people receiving Medicare and Social Security benefits.

There are many services – offered by government, private business and nonprofits – to help folks age well throughout our state, but the system is fragmented. People simply don’t know where to turn when they need help, particularly when in crisis.

Recent reports show that most Nashville seniors will lack adequate transit options by 2015 and that Memphis is among the most treacherous cities for pedestrians. And what about our small towns and rural communities? Are they ready for the influx of boomers? We are already working on this issue in my hometown of Kingsport, which is among the top cities in the nation for the number of boomers.

These folks are expected to live longer than any generation before them. They want to live at home, but remain connected to the community and loved ones. They want to stay healthy and mentally sharp. But an AARP survey earlier this year of 400 older Tennesseans found that nearly one-third are worried they won’t be able to age in place and the overwhelming majority don’t think they have what they need to meet their goals.

That is why I was pleased when Gov. Bill Haslam convened a “Summit on Aging” in June. More than 150 stakeholders from throughout the state – joined by national experts and innovators – met at David Lipscomb University in Nashville to begin answering the governor’s two questions:

1.  As a state, are we serving our seniors well?

2. What can we do better within the framework of our limited resources?

“We all are served well when Tennesseans are able to age with dignity and are healthy and independent,” the governor said.

Attendees ranged from private sector to nonprofit providers, from state department heads to representatives of the nine Area Agencies on Aging and Disability. We heard from national experts about the changing face of aging and retirement. We learned about best practices for dealing with transportation, mobility, housing and healthy behaviors. We were told that social isolation is akin to smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. We talked about ways to improve awareness of services that are available and to fill in the gaps.

There are a lot of people who care passionately about this issue and are willing to work together to make sure that Tennesseans get the information, resources and assistance they need when and where they want them.

We look now to the governor for his guidance in helping us take the next steps – toward an integrated, seamless delivery system of affordable, accessible and appropriate support. One that will allow us to age the way we choose in the state we love.

By Margot Seay

AARP Tennessee State President
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