‘Crisis’ looming in senior services
Researchers find resources shrinking as the state's share of elderly increases
The state will have to do a lot more to prepare for the dramatic growth of its aging residents, who are expected to make up a quarter of the population by 2030, according to University of Hawaii researchers.
By 2030 about 27 percent of the population will be 60 or older, with about 3 percent 85 and older, according to the report released by the University of Hawaii's Center on the Family.
"It's a crisis society's not geared up for," said Sylvia Yuen, one of three authors of the UH report.
"Most alarming is the oldest elderly -- 85 years of age and older -- are growing faster," said Yuen, director of the UH Center on the Family. "The rural parts of our state are going to be even in more of a crisis situation."
The report, "Hawaii's Older Adults: Demographic Profile," focused on Hawaii's aging population over the next three decades and was completed in collaboration with the state Executive Office on Aging.
Already there is a shortage of nurses, nursing beds and gerontologists in Hawaii, Yuen said. And that is with only 18 percent of Hawaii's population 60 or older. Financial support is also important for seniors, 21 percent of whom were living 200 percent below the poverty level a year ago.
The report also noted that in 2005 more seniors in Hawaii than on the mainland continued to live with their families: 78 percent. Yuen wants to help sustain that trend because it reduces the demand on state resources. But those families need help, and the state needs to keep them going as long as possible, she said.
Helping seniors is an often difficult undertaking for families. "It's a big drain," she said. "You have to look at all kinds of support along the life continuum."
Another author of the report, Sarah Yuan, said they hope their report helps policymakers and program directors recognize and address the growing elderly population.
"The issues will get more serious," she said, as she has seen services for seniors decline over the last decade because of a shortage of providers.
Yuan, a gerontologist, said more incentives are needed to encourage people to work in the field of gerontology or senior services.
Government-funded programs that keep seniors active can further reduce demands on state institutions, said Stella Wong, vice president of programs at Catholic Charities Hawaii.
"It saves from long-term care and having the state pick up the cost," she said.
Meanwhile, as demand for senior services has gone up, program funding has dropped in all areas, including transportation, housekeeping, shopping, translation and respite care, Wong said.
"Everybody's aware that there's a growing population, but all we've seen is cutbacks. The 10 years that I've been with Catholic Charities, I've only seen decreases," she said.
Despite the burdens of caring for seniors, aging citizens often have more time, wealth or energy than the young. Agencies are needed to guide those retirees to community service opportunities, Wong said.
Among some 2,000 members at the Catholic Charities Hawaii Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center, more than 80 percent volunteer in some way for the community, she said.
Yuen agreed, adding that seniors can help the homeless, guide youths in school or mentor children.
"Just because you're old doesn't mean that you cannot contribute," she said.
"A lot of people who retire, they have wonderful brainpower. They have time, and for a lot of people they have the resources. They're a wonderful resource to our community that I don't think we have tapped into."
Nationally in 2005, people age 60 and older accounted for 17 percent of the population, compared with Hawaii's 19 percent.
By 2030, 25 percent of the country's residents will be 60 and older, compared with Hawaii's 27 percent.
The UH report is the first in a series of publications that will focus on senior citizens in Hawaii. Topics to be covered in the future include family relations and health.
For more information visit www.uhfamily.hawaii.edu/ datacenter/aging.