Boomers driving choices in Atlanta

By Kenneth A. Mitchell

A recent article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution talked about the challenges facing an elderly couple as they grew older. They were asking: Should they stay in their homes? Where were they going to get reliable help if they did? As they grow frailer, what social opportunities would still be available to them? What if they move to a retirement community and don’t like it?

Those are questions that will confront more and more Americans as the general population ages. The baby boomers, 77 million strong, will begin turning 65 in the next two years and these issues will move to the front burner for them. In the Atlanta region, the population of those over 60 is expected to double from 10 percent in 2000 to 20 percent by 2030.

Already, we have a good idea of how they’ll make some of their choices. For instance, an overwhelming number of retirees — 90 percent — say they want to stay in their homes as long as possible, and census data show they’re doing just that.

But those homes may no longer be suitable: The doorways may be too small, the sinks too high and steps may be impossible to navigate. Aging in place may require renovation so that the home remains comfortable. There are other challenges that confront the elderly, including the possibility that ready use of a car might not always be feasible. In that case, how will they get groceries or access to medical or religious services?

Fortunately, there are efforts along many fronts to address these needs. For several years, a number of builders have been constructing “Easy Living Homes,” which include features including wider doorways, no-step entries and grab-bars in bathrooms to make homes more user-friendly for all ages. After certifying approximately 1,000 homes during the past decade, the group is reforming to take a fresh approach to meet the growing need for all-access housing.

About 18 months ago, the Atlanta Regional Commission held a nine-day community planning session, called a charrette, to create designs for six sites within the metro area. The goal was to create designs for “livable communities” for seniors, where services are grouped close to homes, congestion is addressed, and the opportunity for community engagement remains high.

Today, one of those sites, Mableton, is undergoing a community makeover with the assistance of ARC.

The goals of Lifelong Mableton are to promote housing and transportation options, encourage healthy living and expand access to services for all age groups.

There is also a host of services and advice available by phone and on the Internet. ARC maintains a 24-7 phone number that can provide details on services offered throughout the 10-county area. Georgians can also call Elder Care Locator, a public service that can help older persons and their families access home and community-based services like transportation, meals, home care and caregiver support services.

A trip to the AARP Web site will provide a wealth of information about aging choices, the experience of others and practical advice on confronting the challenges of aging, including the option of connecting with others directly through its online communities.

Finally, Georgians of all ages face challenges: Educational hurdles, lifestyle issues, employment shortages, illness — the list goes on. The challenges at each stage are unique, but there are resources to help at each age. There are resources to help the aging and, most importantly, the aging don’t need to be alone as they face those challenges.

Kenneth A. Mitchell is senior state director of AARP in Georgia.

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