In an earlier editorial on growth in Brunswick County, we mentioned that within two decades, the number of senior citizens in North Carolina will double.
That figure comes from the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services. And as Rose Hoban of N.C. Health News (www.northcarolinahealthnews.org) writes:
“By next year, 2018, there will be more people in the state over 60 than there will be under 17.
By 2030 … people over 85 will be the fastest growing segment of the population.”
Brunswick County has been in the vanguard of this trend. Projections show Pender County close on Brunswick’s heels and New Hanover gaining, too.
Several years back, Dennis Streets, then head of the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services, told N.C. Health News that many counties are doing a good job serving elderly residents, but even more needs to be done, especially in planning for the future.
The Triangle’s Orange County is the state’s gold standard in planning for a growing elderly population, he said. The county – home of UNC Chapel Hill – is heading into its last year of a five-year master aging plan.
Developed with help from UNC, the plan resonates through every department in the county, with the most critical issues being transportation and housing that is both financially and physically accessible.
Some issues the Orange County plan addresses are obvious. Others are more discreet:
For example, how does having many more elderly residents change the way EMS, fire and police services need to be staffed and equipped?
Although each community is unique, we suspect many ideas could be borrowed from the Orange County plan (online PDF file: goo.gl/dBRkOX). It was the first of its kind in the state, and there’s no need to re-invent the wheel.
Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties all have active adult-services programs. New Hanover County is working toward becoming an AARP Age-Friendly Community. And the state has an aging services plan for counties to follow.
We would like to see all three counties develop strategic plans – similar to Orange County’s – that help guide us through this transition to a much-older population. Leaders need to ensure they are looking beyond mere services for seniors and considering the overall impact an aging population will have on everyone.
How might an older population affect hurricane response? What about the impact on property taxes and school funding? Will budget priorities need to change? Should roads and other infrastructure be built differently?
The bottom line is pretty basic: We know that 20 to 30 years from now there will be a lot more people living here. That by itself, however, is an incomplete picture. We have to plan with the knowledge that we will be more crowded – and a lot older.