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Addressing the needs of senior citizens in an aging West Virginia

By Staff | Feb 1, 2016

Organizations dedicated to addressing the needs of senior citizens sent representatives to attend last Wednesday’s West Virginia Partnership for Elder Living (WVPEL) meeting to discuss modern problems associated with the “senior boom.”

Phil Schenk presided over the presentation entitled “Ready? Set? Age!”-which focused primarily on the rise in elderly brought about by the aging baby boomers, a phenomenon referred to as the “senior boom.” West Virginia, he remarked, has a greater proportion of people over the age of 65 than most other states, placing it in America’s top three states with rapidly rising elderly population.

The presentation also covered the need for ingenuity in devising new solutions to better accommodate America’s elderly particularly in West Virginia. In spite of its status among the “oldest” states in the country, West Virginia has long struggled for funding and providing adequate services for its elderly population.

Schenk stressed that increased funding alone will be insufficient to deal with this problem. There are now more people over the age of 60 in the United States than there are under 15. Increased taxes, he argued, cannot counterbalance that disparity between those shouldering the burden and the large number of elderly who will need care of some kind.

One suggestion addressed by the presentation was to increase the retirement age. Schenk pointed out that, at the time when it was introduced, Social Security was not intended to support such a large number of people. The systems still in place today were designed to support people through their final few years but now, with advancements in medical science, people quite regularly live several decades past 65 years old.

“Maybe then, we ought to consider raising that age in response,” Schenk argued.

Besides issues of legislature or government policy, multiple attendees at the meeting held at Trinity Episcopal Church, addressed the stigma surrounding hospice care and the reluctance of families to discuss issues related to aging, such as advanced directives and living wills. They stressed the importance of opening up channels of communication within the family and recognizing that hospice care should be seen as a valuable resource rather than some stigmatized as some form of abandonment.

In a short interview following the meeting, Schenk addressed the lack of visibility for people being cut off from services. The home delivered meals program, for example, had to restrict their radius of service such that many elderly not living within specific locations were left without those provisions.

Based on some anecdotal evidence along with some discussions he’s had with state employees, Schenk said he thinks the problem is a bigger than is really known.

“People are doing whatever it takes to get by,” he said, “we don’t know what they’re doing, we don’t know what’s going on the crisis is hidden.”