Get ready -- the age-quake is heading our way Need for major changes seen to care for aging population.

December 05, 1991|By Sue Miller | Sue Miller,Evening Sun Staff

If you think the shaky economy, layoffs and the flat job market are more than you can cope with, brace yourself for age-quake.

Not exactly a household word yet, age-quake is a term that gerontologists use to describe the demographic change looming in the 21st century, when an increasingly larger proportion of the population is expected to survive to old age. Experts predict a dramatic impact on things such as health care, housing, social services, business, labor and transportation.

The first signs of age-quake may be visible by year 2000 in Maryland and across the country. By year 2030, age-quake may hit its peak when, for the first time, the percentage of the population that is age 65 to 69 is expected to be greater than the population under age 5.

The population shifts will create a big problem, says Fran Baker, a senior research associate at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.

There won't be enough people to provide services and care for the spiraling number of older Americans because the birth rate will not have been high enough to maintain the required number of younger people, she says.

Baker met with a group of 60 Baltimore gerontologists, service providers from hospitals and nursing homes, business representatives and community and church leaders at the Maryland General Hospital this week to share ideas on how Maryland can develop policies to prepare for the expanding age phenomenon.

"We need to start planning for all this now," she said. "We have about a 10-year window before the first of the baby boomers start to retire.

"So, our social service systems, medical systems, transportation systems, housing industry all have to start thinking about preparing our individual state governments for that large number of people that will be moving out of the work force into the leisure force."

Working under a federal grant, the researcher is meeting with comparable groups in 17 states in the Southeast.

Ideas that are generated will be shared nationally, she said, with the Administration on Aging, and will be presented to the National Governors Association next year.

By 2030, the number of people in the 60-plus category in this state could soar to 1.26 million, up from 749,020 now, the Maryland Office on Aging says. The size of the fastest growing elderly group -- those 85-plus -- could climb from 53,607 now to possibly 148,718.

Nationally, the figures in the 60-plus category will rise from 42.7 million to 83.2 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau Current Population Reports. The number of people in the 85-plus group could zoom from 3.3 million to 8.1 million.

"We've already begun seeing large increases in the elderly population," said Don Wassmann, deputy director of the Maryland Office on Aging. "And, every year, we plan how we are going to meet that increasing population's needs. For instance, we know that the number of people over 80 in Maryland has been increasing at an inordinate rate."

"Because we're going to have a shortage of people to provide services, we may have to come up with different ways to provide services, ways that we can't even begin to think of at the moment," he says.

Baker stresses that the people who were brainstorming about the consequences of age-quake "are people who are not normally asked to provide the solutions, but every one of them is facing retirement and we want them to tell us what kind of a world they want to live in."

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