“One of the many things no one tells you about aging is that it’s such a nice change from being young.” Will Rogers
It has been a privilege and a learning experience to be a member of the New York State Assembly Committee on Aging. The Committee is responsible for analyzing all issues related to the aging population: transportation assistance, long-term care, healthcare, prescription drug coverage and aging in place, which refers to ways to help seniors continue to live and be active in their communities.
Aging is a timely issue. Face it, we are all aging. And as a member of the Baby Boom generation I am part of a cohort that is about to become the largest senior population in history, a daunting fact for our society as a whole, and one we should be preparing for in a thoughtful, pro-active way.
With all this in mind, we launched a Senior Tour last month that is taking us to a half dozen community senior programs throughout the region, senior picnics, an elder abuse conference, and on a tour of a pioneering new model for aging in place, right here in the Hudson Valley. The goal of these visits is to talk directly with our seniors to hear their concerns and priorities first hand and to encourage them to reach out to our District Office if we can help in any way — from questions about Medicaid, to advice on getting more local fruit and vegetables in their diets to worries about unwelcome solicitations or fraud.
Unfortunately, the aging population has increasingly become a target of con artists and scams. These can take the form of sweepstakes making false claims that you have won something. Or they can be a seemingly sympathetic plea for money, sometimes from someone who claims to be a family member. As part of our Senior Tour, we have partnered with the office of NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who recently launched a Smart Seniors program aimed at educating our older consumers. We have made the Attorney General’s excellent new initiative part of our visits, giving folks the tools and information to protect themselves from fraud and abuse. In addition, we are working with the regional office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand to inform our older neighbors about federal programs her office can help with, including Veterans, Social Security and Immigration issues. Our office is happy to direct calls to the best place to get help.
Many of the programs we have been visiting on our Senior Tour are run by the Division of Aging in Dutchess and the Office for the Aging in Columbia Counties and are funded by New York State. We hear in our conversations how budget cuts in the last year have resulted in cutbacks in activities; four-day weeks, meaning fewer mid-day meals for many people; and in some cases the closing of a program site altogether, which means folks must travel long distance or simply stay home. For many of the seniors we visited with, especially in the more rural parts of the region, these daily bingo and card games are a major part of their social life and the lunch their one hot meal.
A new model for aging in place in a rural setting is being explored at Camphill Ghent, a recently opened integrated residential long-term care facility set among 122 acres of rolling hills in Columbia County. Embracing the values of the worldwide Camphill movement, an initiative for social change, their mission is to “care for, celebrate, embrace and honor the special strengths and needs of those in their elder years.” A sustainable community incorporating green architecture and technology, Camphill Ghent offers both independent living and an adult residence.
Our senior citizens are one of the true great resources in all our towns, but they are too often taken for granted. Listening to an older gentleman’s delightful anecdotes at the Poughkeepsie picnic or hearing how a group of older women in Hudson serve meals regularly at their churches, it’s hard not to be inspired. How fortunate we have been to hear first hand the recollections, insights and wisdom of these great community treasures.