HURLEY — Local leaders in senior citizen services joined together for the first Iron County Aging Retreat, Wednesday, at the Iron County Memorial Building.
The event was hosted by the Iron County University of Wisconsin-Extension office, with the hopes of creating a more "aging-friendly" Iron County.
"We're here today to see why it's so important to talk about aging in this day and age," Shruthi Murali, UW-Extension intern, said.
At the beginning of the retreat, family living agent Andrea Newby asked attendees to introduce themselves and say one word which best describes seniors. Some of the choices included: respect, wisdom, opportunity, vital, lucky, volunteers, involved, dedication, retirement, loving, misunderstood and potential.
Newby spoke about why there is such an urgency to prepare communities to become aging-friendly. A big reason, is where seniors are living.
"When people retire, they are not moving to Florida," Newby said. "They are aging in place, and this is happening in every community, whether rural or urban. Everyone is dealing with a growing senior population."
According to a 2005 survey of 10,000 communities nationwide by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the Metlife Foundation, only 46 percent of communities indicated they had begun to assess their "aging-readiness" and prepare for the impacts of an aging population.
Another factor in local senior population growth, is seniors are living longer. From 1900 through 2003, life expectancy at birth increased from 48 to 75 years for men and 51 to 80 years for women.
The major influx of seniors began in January 2011, when the "baby boomers" began to turn 65 years old. Approximately 10,000 of boomers will turn 65 every day for almost the next 20 years.
By 2030, one-out-of-five Americans, roughly 72 million people, will be 65 or older, and by 2050, the 65-and-older population is projected to be between 80 and 90 million, with the number of those 85 years old and older close to 21 million.
Closer to home
According to the 2010 census, Iron County was the oldest county in the state with an average median age of 51. Other counties ranking in the top 10 include Vilas, Door, Bayfield, Adams, Burnett, Florence, Price, Oneida and Washburn counties.
To help balance those numbers, Iron and Gogebic counties have created the Gogebic Range Next Generation Initiative to help attract and retain young people in the community.
Group member Will Andresen, also of the UW-Extension office, spoke about how the population has been steadily declining in the area for almost a century.
"We have over 120 people involved and our goal is to create a vibrant community that thrives," Andresen said. "We want to strengthen the good to great and create a community that everyone wants to live in. It's about finding that balance."
Andresen also spoke about some of the initiatives the group has taken to find balance, including supporting nature based activities which "attract all ages," and helping to create the regional bike trail through Hurley, Montreal and Kimball to attach to the statewide trail in Michigan.
"This is a great community with strong schools, strong businesses and we want to attract everyone," Andresen said.
Keys to longevity
Guest speaker Gerri Heppe spoke about the seven keys to longevity including physical activities, positive attitudes, staying socially engaged, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, having a good marriage and not drinking excessively.
"People are living longer, and it's not good health care, it's not healthy foods, it's sanitation," Heppe said. "That is the No. 1 reason why we're living longer. The boomers will be the first generation since the days of polio to see their children die before they do. It's because of obesity."
Heppe also spoke about how the face of age is changing, showing photos of celebrities and famous figures who, without the use of plastic surgery, looked better after aging.
She provided a true or false quiz about the stereotypes of aging, and told the audience that if seniors have three or more of the keys to longevity, they have an 80 percent chance of living over the age of 85.
"In the future, there is a good chance that over 600,000 people nationwide will be over 100 years old," Heppe said.
To help those who are living well into their "golden years," Newby and Murali asked attendees to break into groups based on their professions to discuss the impacts of population growth in the aging community, what services are currently being offered and where gaps are in services.
After discussing possible changes and actions, Newby and Murali asked if people would be interested in joining a group to help "continue the momentum" in helping the aging community in Iron County.
"Today was a call for action," Newby said. "Don't let the momentum die after this."