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January 30, 2013

Panel discusses issues of aging population

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — Adjusting to an aging population presents some obstacles, but society must avoid stigmatizing the aging and elderly, participants were told Tuesday during a panel discussion at Hartwick College.

“The main obstacle I want to address … is framing aging and elderly people as a problem, as opposed to seeing the changes occurring in our society as just a challenge,” said Lisa Curch, chairwoman and associate professor of sociology at the State University College at Oneonta.

“Yes, there are going to be difficulties in things we need to find solutions to,” she added. But society must “make sure we don’t confuse that with seeing the elderly themselves as a problem.”

The discussion, Engaging Aging as a Community, was sponsored by the Otsego County Chamber and featured three panelists in addition to Curch: Hartwick President Margaret Drugovich; Sandra Fleisher, president of the Center for Continuing Adult Education; Michelle Thibault, director of continuing education and the summer session at SUNY Oneonta; and Judith Sweet, community liaison for At Home Care.

It was moderated by Claudia Blumenstock, president and chief executive of Copernicus, a Rochester-based consulting company that specializes in helping senior-support organizations maximize their services.

Representatives from several health care, senior housing and other organizations also attended — fostering the kind “multiagency and multi-institution coordination” to which Drugovich referred in some of her remarks.

“At times like this, it seems difficult to invest the kind of resources and energy necessary to have these kinds of discussions,” she said. “But I think that these discussions are incredibly important. I’m hoping that this one, this morning, leads to a greater sense of importance of having multiagency coordination.”

Nearly all of the panelists agreed that climate and geography were critical issues that conspired to limit seniors’ access to community resources.

“We all love to think of Otsego County as Oneonta and Cooperstown, but it is so much more than that,” Sweet said. “It is amazing, the rural population we have in this county. When I say they live on the tops of mountains … they do.”

She also outlined one tactic for overcoming the geographical issue, a telemedicine program, “because we realized it’s so important to keep in touch with patients.”

Patients in the program receive a monitor, a scale, a blood-pressure cuff and pulse oximeter and, in some cases, electrocardiogram bracelets.

“What that means is we can monitor their vital signs, every day, once or twice or three times a day,” she said. “That helps us intercede before a patient” gets seriously ill.

The panelists also agreed that other issues were more easily tackled.

“What we hear, mainly, as an obstacle, is communication,” Fleisher said. “People don’t hear about things.”

Nationwide, people age 65 and older account for 13.3 percent of the population, according to the most-recent U.S. Census data. For New York state, it’s a slightly higher 13.7 percent. In Ostego County, however, 17 percent of residents are in that age group. In Delaware County, the percentage is even higher: 19.8. That’s 6.5 percentage points higher than the national figure. The percentages for Chenango and Schoharie counties are 17 and 16.2, respectively.

Those percentages are likely to rise, because, as several of the speakers at Tuesday discussion noted, the Baby Boom generation is aging.