Time to think about our future needs

Posted: Sunday, March 16, 2008

Let's face it, we're not getting any younger.

Between 1990 and 2000, the median age of Kenai Peninsula residents increased from 31.1 to 36.3, according to the borough's economic analysis. That number jumped to 39.7 in 2006.

The number of senior citizens on the peninsula also is on the rise, growing by 81 percent from 1990 to 2000.

What's more, we're living longer: the number of residents aged 75 to 84 grew by 150 percent, and the population of those 85 and older grew by 160 percent. Seniors also are a growing slice of the peninsula's demographic picture. In 1990, the 1,987 residents aged 65 and older represented just shy of 4.8 percent of the population; in 2000, our 3,649 seniors made up 7 percent of the total.

With a generation of baby boomers getting ready to join those ranks, we on the peninsula have to make sure we have the facilities and programs in place to meet the needs of our graying population.

First and foremost, the need for housing will continue to grow. New apartments at the Soldotna Senior Center are almost full; renters will begin moving into new apartments at the Sterling Senior Center next month. New building projects, such as the proposed Primrose Retirement Community in Soldotna, will be in demand as seniors look for homes designed with accessibility in mind.

Medical care also needs to keep up with the growth in our senior population. We have different medical needs as we age, and the peninsula medical community should continue to grow and adapt to meet those needs. Programs to train nurses, paramedics, and other caregivers, such as those offered through Kenai Peninsula College, also must grow to meet the anticipated demand for those services.

Mobility also is an issue. We need to provide the means for seniors to maintain an independent lifestyle to the extent possible. Winter's darkness and icy roads and sidewalks can make that difficult, and many people rely on taxis, CARTs and senior center vans to get around. Is it time to talk about expanding public transportation around the central peninsula?

We owe it to our seniors to make sure they can continue to call the Kenai Peninsula home. A little forward thinking now will go a long way toward making that possible.

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