Ventura County aging boom will intensify, experts predict

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The data that tumbled out of a forum on aging Wednesday was powerful enough to turn hair gray.

The number of Ventura County residents 60 and older — now about 196,000 — will likely exceed the number of youth younger than 18 early in 2020.

County residents aged 85 and older will nearly quadruple in 40 years.

The aging surge could strain already existing issues like the nearly 70% of area renters 65 and older who pay at least 30% of their income on housing.

Care needs will explode too, possibly increasing the already mind-boggling number of uncompensated caregivers. In 2017, they contributed more than 18 billion hours of unpaid care nationwide.

The statistics, from sources including Ventura County Public Health and the Ventura County Community Foundation, forecast a storm. It is already here, according to Victoria Jump, director of the Ventura County Area Agency on Aging.

“You’re going to have people moving through a system that wasn’t designed to accommodate these numbers,” she said, referring to long-term care services, other health needs and virtually all other services.

“It’s that fear and realization of being isolated,” she said.

Area leaders talked about the need for more nursing homes and memory care facilities

They discussed the exploding rate of Alzheimer’s and the falling ratio of caregivers.

When it comes to access to doctor’s appointments and other care for older adults, one of the biggest barriers is transportation. Speakers zeroed in on the need for services that provide more than curb-to-curb deliveries, instead helping people leave their home and delivering them through the doors of their destination.

People totally reliant on public transportation are latchkey seniors, said Darren Kettle, executive director of the Ventura County Transportation Commission. He said their needs call for drastic changes in public transportation in part so seniors don’t have to take two buses or two vans just to travel across the county.

“There’s nothing more I would like to do than say, ‘We got this.’ But I can’t,” said Kettle, emphasizing the work ahead in meeting the aging boom. He cited the need for different transit systems to communicate better and also underscored the increased financial resources required to bring change.

“The thing we’re going to have to recognize is that none of this stuff is going to be cheap,” he said.

Data punctuated the forum. Ventura County Public Health Epidemiologist Erin Slack noted the life expectancy throughout Ventura County is about 82 years.

But in the Oak View area zip code of 93022, life expectancy is 79.1 years. In the Conejo Valley zip of 91361, the number is 86.6 years, said Slack, suggesting such differences are sometimes linked to socio-economics among other factors.

“It shouldn’t matter where you’re born and how much your parents make in determining how long you’re going to live,” she said.

Fernando Torres-Gil, once the U.S. assistant secretary of aging in the Department of Health and Human Services, leads the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging. He explored the financial pressures of an aging boom that will further strain resources of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Both Democrats and Republicans have pushed them to the side. ‘We’ll get to them later,'” he said of restructuring aid systems.

Torres-Gil commended Ventura County leaders for their ahead-of-the-curve efforts to come up with an aging master plan, telling them the efforts will pay off.

He predicted voters will eventually support more funding for efforts aimed at the aging boom. He offered a mild obscenity in suggesting support will emerge when people come to grips with their age.

Torres-Gil predicted they’ll wake up one morning and say, “Oh (shoot), I’m old. Now what?”

This article was originally published at Ventura County Star.

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