2010-10-27 / Seniors

Preparing for Chesterfield’s age wave of seniors

By Katherine Houstoun

Mary Creasy, special projects manager for Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging, speaks about the coming “age wave” during last month’s Summit on Aging. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Mary Creasy, special projects manager for Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging, speaks about the coming “age wave” during last month’s Summit on Aging. Page Dowdy/Chesterfield Observer Chesterfield is aging, and faster than you might expect. By 2030, Chesterfield is expected to have 79,772 residents over the age of 65, according to the Older Dominion Partnership, a nonprofit initiative created in 2007 to help Virginia prepare for its growing senior population. That’s a 280-percent increase from the year 2000 when the senior population count hovered around 21,000. By contrast, Chesterfield’s overall population is expected to grow by 66 percent during that same time period.

“The senior population growth is outgrowing the regular population,” explains Mary Creasy, special projects manager for Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging. “You have the baby boomers aging, but at same time you have folks living longer. There’s a real concern about housing and transportation and health care.”

In Virginia the “age wave” means the doubling of the commonwealth’s senior population over the next 20 years, but this phenomenon is not unique to our area. “In the future, 27 states in the U.S. are going to have populations that look more like Florida,” says Creasy. “The time to plan for it is really now.”

Statewide planning for the age wave began in 2007 with the establishment of the Older Dominion Partnership; locally, it began about two years ago when United Way of Greater Richmond and Petersburg and Senior Connections launched the Greater Richmond Age Wave Planning effort, a regional collaboration involving local governments, businesses, universities, philanthropies, foundations, service providers and more.

“A lot of the time agencies and organizations serve their own population in their own way,” says Creasy. “The Greater Richmond plan is really getting everybody to the table talking about how we can coordinate better amongst ourselves.”

As part of the planning effort, Chesterfield County hosted a Summit on Aging last month, in which about 120 individuals came together to discuss the age wave and how to prepare for it. The summit came on the heels of the Richmond Metro Region Forum on Livable Communities in June 2009 and the Richmond City Summit on Aging last May. The Chesterfield meeting, which was sponsored by the county, Springdale at Lucy Corr Village and Senior Connections, was attended by county employees, representatives of nonprofit organizations and churches, health-care providers, realtors, developers, financial advisors and curious citizens – all interested in finding specific strategies to improve livability for Chesterfield’s growing community of older adults.

Phillip Sharp attended the summit, which took place at Bon Air Baptist Church, on behalf of Joy Christian Outreach Center, a new nonprofit organization that plans to help connect local churches with community resources. He also had a more personal reason.

“I have my mother-in-law living with me,” he explains. “She’s 75 years old, a dialysis patient who had triple heart bypass and she’s unable to live alone.”

Like many caregivers, Sharp hoped to learn more about the resources and supports available for his mother-in-law. Creasy has heard similar concerns from Chesterfield seniors and their families throughout the county.

“Almost everywhere we go in this area, people talk about transportation,” she says. “The way the system works now is you can sometimes finagle transportation to medical appointments and things like that, but errands – going to the post office, going out to lunch – those things are very hard to do. When people stop driving, it gets them isolated. It’s really not good for folks’ mental health.”

Creasy says Chesterfield seniors also have common concerns about health care, the cost of prescription drugs and insurance and affordable housing – all of which are being examined by the Greater Richmond Age Wave Planning group. The group has established a leadership committee and workgroups to deal with four topics: civic and community engagement, health and wellness, housing and transportation and work force and finance. A working draft of the regional age-wave plan should be available for public input next spring; Creasy hopes the final draft will be approved next fall. Citizens who are interested in participating in the age-wave process should contact Senior Connections at 343-3054 or Debbie Leidheiser, Chesterfield’s senior advocate, at 768-7878. In the meantime, the county will continue to improve upon its own resources and their accessibility.

“One of the underlying principles of the age-wave plan is that we are concentrating on the present as well as the future,” says Creasy. “It’s not devoid of any context; we have to have a starting point. We need to know what direction to go in.”

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