Coming senior tsunami requires preparation


POSTED: Thursday, October 23, 2008

A tsunami rolled across the entire U.S. financial system during the past few weeks that the average person never saw coming and got no warning about. Much of this financial news is very complex and difficult for most people to understand.

With the recent decline in the stock market, it seems the public's interest in their 401(k) accounts and impending retirement has taken on a sense of urgency. This financial crisis forced people to take notice about one of the most important chapters of their lives: retirement and how to properly plan for it.

But there is another “;tsunami”; on the horizon that will require further planning: the generation of baby boomers soon facing retirement age. And there is a growing concern that the programs associated with growing older will be overwhelmed, creating a crisis in housing, health care and quality living.

  The numbers associated with aging paint a challenging picture:

» Hawaii's share of residents 65 years and older is the seventh highest in the nation.

» Nationwide, our population over 65 is growing faster than any other demographic age group, and by 2020, one in five Americans will be over 65.

Over the next 40 years, long-term care needs in Hawaii are expected to double, and about half of those 85 years and older will need some long-term care before the end of their lives.

Hawaii's housing, medical services, long-term care industry, and financial and other social services have not kept pace with the growing needs of senior citizens. Susan Reinhard of the AARP Public Policy Institute recently noted that Hawaii has a low count for long-term care beds and is short on community-based senior care facilities.

  The primary burden for caring and supporting our kupuna begins with our own ohana. It's estimated that there are some 125,000 informal caregivers in Hawaii, mostly family members, providing an estimated 120 million caregiving hours each year at an unpaid value of nearly $1 billion.

In fact, baby boomers themselves are now dealing with their aging parents and with the problems and concerns that will soon become their own personal challenge.

Where do you turn for information and help when the following conversational worries stop at your doorstep?:

”;My mother is going on 80 and she lives by herself. I visit every day to make sure she's OK and hasn't fallen down or hurt herself.”;

”;My father is 83 and physically healthy, but his mind is slowly going. He lives with us, but with the kids, it's pretty crowded and financially tough at times.”;

The good news is that there are viable blueprints for successful aging.

  Here are several planning considerations:

» Personal responsibility. Seniors want to remain independent in their homes, maintain good health, receive adequate health care, and do not want to outlive their assets and income. So plan now. Educate and prepare yourself on the needs, costs and reality of aging. Acknowledge that aging presents difficulties and even daily tasks such as bathing, dressing, housekeeping and taking medications might require some assistance later on in life.

» Business responsibility. Business owners and leaders need to encourage responsible retirement planning by employees. Acceptable retirement programs for workers should be available at their workplace.

» Increased collaboration between public and private senior service agencies and organizations. Strong support is needed from government and from private organizations that offer a variety of housing solutions for seniors. The continued dedication and support of our religious and nonprofit community service organizations are an absolute must.

» Understand the senior continuum of care. Your senior years will bring unparalleled health care challenges, ranging from independent living to assisted living, and the possibility of long-term care, special care for those who develop Alzheimer's and dementia, and end-of-life care. Timely assessments by doctors and geriatric experts can help identify changing personal needs, which can be factored into one's aging plan.

Clearly, the privilege of living a long life does not come easily, but with planning, knowledge and a responsible commitment to recognizing and funding the cost for your senior years, successful aging is within our grasp.


Emmet White is president and CEO of Arcadia and 15 Craigside senior living communities in Nuuanu.