20 Aug 2014
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Growing Efforts to Address the State's Aging Population

There is a statewide focus on issues that affect the elderly, including health care and quality of life.

Growing Efforts to Address the State's Aging Population

Connecticut’s infrastructure isn’t the only thing that’s aging.

According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, 19.6 percent of Connecticut’s population is between 50 and 64 years old. Those aged 65 to 84 comprise 11.8 percent of its population — slightly higher than the national average of 11 percent. And 2.6 percent of the state’s population is 85 and older, compared with 2 percent of the United States for the same age group.

On their own, these are merely convenient bullet points to punctuate policy talks or debates on everything from health care reform to the national debt. Yet they are more than just numbers, according to several state and national politicians. They help explain the several statewide initiatives designed to address an aging population, including establishing its first ever Select Committee on Aging.

And so as part of Older Americans Month, Patch takes a look at some of these efforts.

During this past week, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes (D-4) visited senior centers across the region to discuss Medicare and the federal budget. In these meetings there was an overriding concern about whether the nation sustain its seniors.

“I’ve been around a little bit,” Gloria Blake told Himes. “I’m worried they will dissolve the old Medicare plan.”

All too often the discussion gets mired in politics and blame, Himes told members of the Stamford Senior Center Thursday.

“But underlying this is the fact that it’s nobody’s fault. Our country is getting older,” said Himes, who lives in Cos Cob.

And health care is getting more expensive. Medicare represents about 14 percent of the federal budget. Congress must address this entitlement if it’s going to control the national debt, Himes said.

Various proposals are being floated, but U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s is the one gaining the most traction on the GOP side of the aisle. The Wisconsin Republican wants to restructure Medicare according to a voucher system.

AARP is concerned because under Ryan’s plan future Medicare enrollees would no longer receive guaranteed benefits. Instead the government would provide a set amount of money and individuals would buy their own private insurance. The payments would be linked with inflation rates as measured by Consumer Price Index.

Critics of the plan argue that CPI rises more slowly than health care costs and so would impose an undue burden on older Americans.

Himes praised Ryan for bringing what he called some honesty to the debate. But he knocked the plan for putting too much fiscal responsibility on Medicare recipients.

“It shifts the risk on to seniors. Frankly I regard that as a little bit lazy,” he said.

One way to help offset exploding health care costs is for more emphasis on prevention, said state Rep. Livvy Floren, a Republican who represents Greenwich and Stamford in the 149th House District.

“We’ve got to do more for prevention. There’s not enough money to be printed to take care of obesity, diabetes, and all the other preventable diseases,” said Floren, who sits on the Select Committee on Aging.

But more than that, Floren said the state must continue pushing the idea of ‘Aging in Place.’

To help more residents stay home the state’s Select Committee on Aging has worked hard to promote ‘Aging in Place.’ This initiative calls for improved infrastructure and transportation to support quality home care delivery.

“I think that as people age they overwhelmingly want to stay in their homes,” Floren said.

AARP statistics back that up. According to AARP Connecticut about 90 percent of older residents want to live at home because they want to control sleep, eat, socializing. And 8.8 percent of the state’s citizens used Medicare home health services compared with 7.1 percent of the nation.

Staying home is better for health and easier on the wallet.

“It costs about $400 to $500 a day to stay in a nursing home in this state,” Himes said.

Indeed home care costs about two to three times less than nursing home care, according to AARP. It costs about $100,000 a year for nursing home care. This compares to about $25,000 a year for home health care, she said.

More than 80 percent of residents prefer home-based care so they can remain connected to family members and loved ones, according to Deborah Hoyt, president and CEO of the Connecticut Association for Home Care & Hospice, in testimony before the Aging Committee. Hoyt based her numbers on a University of Connecticut study.

According to Marie Allen, director of the Southwestern CT Agency on Aging and Independent Living: “Connecticut must work to develop a strong home and community based network of care by providing a seamless based infrastructure, developing a flexible benefit structure, and providing adequate reimbursement for community based providers."

To that end, Floren said, there needs to be an increase of public-private partnerships.

One example of that is Wilton’s one-year-old, Stay at Home program. Volunteers help senior citizens who are in need of everything from transportation, walking dogs, paying bills or picking up prescriptions from pharmacies.

Of course, not everyone can stay home alone for the whole day. For that there are Adult Day Care Centers. These centers can save money and keep older adults healthy all while preventing nursing home placement for years, said Katherine Donahue, director of The Day Club Adult Day Center.

But in 2008, three centers in the state, including one in Shelton, closed.

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