Ithaca, N.Y. — Major issues plaguing older residents (age 60 and above) in Tompkins County include a lack of high-paying jobs, minimal transportation services and an absence of affordable housing and assisted living options, according to a new report by the Tompkins County Office for the Aging.
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The report, titled “Strategic Plan for Aging in Tompkins County,” outlined the growing needs of older adults in the region and provided recommendations from community stakeholders on how to alleviate those problems.
Ithaca is getting older
According to the 2010 Census, there was a 34 percent increase in the 60+ population of Tompkins County between 2000 and 2010 — from 11,967 in 2000 to 16,042 in 2010.
This increase, the TCOFA report says, is “largely attributable to the leading edge of the Baby Boomers reaching the age of 60.”
Overall, the report adds, many of these people now entering the 60+ population are “actively employed, socially engaged, own their homes, drive themselves, and have relatively few long term care needs.”
In the coming decades, the “older adult” population in Tompkins County is expected to increase, peaking at approximately 21,590 people in 2030.
Between 2000 and 2040, the 85-and-older population in Tompkins County is expected to increase by 54% — from 1,252 in 2000 to 2,721 in 2040.
Here are four growing challenges that come with Tompkins County’s aging population:
1 – Competition for scarce jobs
Tompkins County has the lowest unemployment rate in the State of New York. For the aging population, the report says, there is competition for scarce jobs, meaning older members of the Tompkins County community have difficulty finding high-paying jobs.
“[O]lder workers may be forced to accept positions for much lower pay than their pre-retirement positions,” the report notes. “There are biases against hiring older workers who may be perceived as less able to manage technology.”
To remedy this, the report — which was curated from 145 community stakeholders’ opinions in a series of eight discussions related to topics involving aging — suggests using “the younger generation as a resource for teaching older adults about technology and its uses.”
The report also recommends utilizing college students to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of what can “easily be changed to make Tompkins County a more livable community.”
2 — A lack of resources and funding
Programs that support the aging in Tompkins County, the report says, “are already operating with strained resources and limited funding.”
“Not only do core programs need to be strengthened and sustained,” the report adds, “they must be enhanced to meet current and future demands.”
The report recommends an increase in civic engagement and volunteerism among both older and younger generations. Exploring “models of volunteerism as a means to meet the needs of older adults in the community” is one remedy, the report suggests.
“For instance, explore the use of trained EMS volunteers who are willing to assist with many basic needs of community elders such as in-home assessments and care,” it adds.
3 – Absence of transportation services
Although the report notes that 88% of older adults polled have their own private vehicle which they use for transportation, it also notes that a lack of transportation options — especially for those in rural communities — “creates barriers to medical care and puts older adults at risk for social isolation which can result in declining health.”
The report highlights a shortage of same-day transportation services, out-of-county transportation to regional medical centers, after hours, and weekend transportation.
Recruiting and maintaining volunteer drivers to assist the older generation is also a concern for the TCOFA.
To address these issues, the report advises securing additional revenue “to meet the growing demand of transportation services,” as well as encouraging businesses and medical providers to assist in paying transportation costs for their clients.
4 — Shortage of affordable housing and assisted living care
In 2014, the report says, the City of Ithaca had a .5% housing vacancy rate, while the “healthy” rate is typically considered 5%.
The lack of housing drives costs higher, the report says. “Our community needs a greater supply of affordable housing that serves all generations and creates living environments that enable people.”
Additional challenges include finding housing for those with severe and persistent mental illnesses, as the report cites a lack of affordable assisted living options in the county.
“Some elders who cannot afford local assisted living options have to stay at home in unsafe conditions or seek other affordable assisted living options out-of-county,” the report says.
“Skilled nursing facilities are hard-pressed to provide adequate care for people with dementia and those with psychotic behaviors. Care for people exhibiting these behaviors tends to bounce back and forth between the hospital and nursing homes.”
Even people with “reasonable” resources are unable to pay privately for long-term care for very long, the report adds.
The report recommends increasing the supply of housing in Tompkins County to lower costs, as well as streamlining the approval process for new housing developments. It also suggests clustering housing around services, and changing the zoning, “if needed, to make this possible.”
To rectify issues involving the high cost of assisted living care, the report also recommends advocating “for the development of more options for secure, affordable dementia care in Tompkins County.”