Summit focuses on aging-friendly communities
OMA, Wis. - The second annual Aging-Friendly Communities Summit was held on Friday at the Oma Town Hall and featured a number of speakers discussing a variety of topics from elder law to dementia.
The event was hosted by the Iron County Aging Friendly Communities Coalition, of which Andrea Newby is a member.
Newby is a family living agent with Iron County's University of Wisconsin Extension Office.
"We really just want to spread the word and try and engage as many people as we can," she said of the event. "We look at aging friendly communities and what we can do to create communities that are more livable for all people, but specifically our aging community because our population is growing."
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 25.4 percent of Iron County's population was 65 years or older, the second highest in the state behind Vilas County's 25.9 percent.
Iron County's 65 and older population is projected to increase to 35.9 percent by 2035.
"We have a really high percentage of people 65 and older," Newby said. "And that face of aging is changing, so we want to be able to provide activities and opportunities for the new aging."
The summit featured Christopher Pogliano, a doctor at Aspirus Grand View Hospital, who spoke about dementia; and Wendy Thiede, a teacher and school to work coordinator, retired from Sheboygan County, who discussed the retirement industry and its economic impact on Iron County.
Paul Sturgul, an elder law attorney, also lectured at the event about estate planning and preserving the autonomy of elders.
Sturgul said most people haven't prepared for an incapacity, such as physical disabilities or cognitive deficits, but there is a way for one's wishes to be carried out by someone else if the individual is unable to do so themselves.
"We can do that while we're alive by having two kinds of documents," he said. "One is popularly known as a living will."
Sturgul said the early forms of a living will don't name a person to be your agent, or patient advocate and only goes into effect in two conditions-if the individual is terminally ill or irreversibly unconscious.
"But those are the only two medical scenarios where they apply," Sturgul said. "The newer document is a durable power of attorney for health care, and that is a document that can be used for any medical situation.
"Everybody in this room should have a durable power of attorney for health care, because we all know life is uncertain," Sturgul continued. "We should all have a document where we name someone that we trust explicitly that can make medical decisions for us if we are unable to make those decisions ourselves."
Cliff Barber, professor of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, lectured about the importance of social connectedness in aging-friendly communities and discussed a book, "Bowling Alone", by Robert D. Putnam.
Barber said research indicates people who are socially connected feel an increased sense of identity, competence, trust and sense of security.
He also cited research that shows a connection between higher levels of social isolation and increased mortality rates, as well as increased blood pressures and depression.
Older people without adequate amounts of social interaction are twice as likely to die prematurely, Barber said.
He also noted four key characteristics of social connectedness: the size and frequency of social networks; the quality of relationships within the network; the density of the network; and community engagement, which translates into networks interacting with other networks.
Barber addressed the difference Putnam proposed in his book between physical and social capital in communities.
Physical capital includes things such as money, whereas social capital involves the connections amongst people.
Barber said the two types of social capital are bonding, which involves people sharing similar interests within a group, and bridging, which would connect several groups.
"You need to have both folks, you need to have both sets of capital here," Barber said. "You need superglue and WD-40. And I would do the inventory of how much bonding capital you have, and how much bridging capital. Look at the balance of those two and this might give you some clues on where to focus your future efforts."