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Friday, October 15, 2004

Aging Shore Brings Challenges

SALISBURY, MD---After he stopped practicing law full time in Frederick County in 1992, Jim Respess and his wife, Pat, purchased a home in northern Virginia. But after years ofliving near the beltway around Washington, Respess decided he needed a change and moved to Salisbury in June. “It’s a lot different here,” said the 78-year-old. “People are more welcoming.” According to statistics, Respess is not the only senior citizen who has been attracted to the Lower Shore recently. A comprehensive study released Tuesday, October 12, by Salisbury University’s Business, Economic and Community Outreach Program projects a large number of seniors will arrive here within 25 years. BEACON’s study, unveiled at a community forum called “Grayshore: What to Expect and How to Prepare for the Coming Senior Boom,” predicts the number of people older than 65 living in Dorchester, Wicomico and Worcester counties will nearly double by 2030. Overall in Maryland, statistics project nearly a quarter of the state’s population will be more than 60 years old during the sametime. With the projected boom, the Lower Shore needs to prepare for the effect that the growth will have on the community—from mass transit to area commerce. “They are coming, and we best be prepared,” said Louise Guylas, a Worcester County Commissioner and chairwoman of the Maryland Commission on Aging. “They’re going to need things that we are not ready to offer them yet.” Ruth Baker, with BEACON, saidoneof the glaring problems facing the Lower Shore is a lack of health care professionals who specialize in dealing with geriatric patients. “There’s only one physician on the Lower Shore that handles cognitive dysfunction, and he’s in Cambridge. That’s it,” she said. The lack of senior-friendly facilities is also a problem, Baker said. According to the study, the four lower Eastern Shore counties have only four elderly assisted housing and Section 8 housing between them. “We need affordable places in the community,” said Jerry Redden, director of the Worcester County Department of Economic Development. However, Dr. Richard Handelman, president of Catered Living of Ocean Pines, an assisted living complex, said people need to be prudent when trying to capitalize on the growing demand. “They have to realize that assisted-living places are not real estate,” he said. “There’s a lot of responsibility there—you have to have a relationship with (a resident’s) family and have them know you’ll take care of their relative.” But even as the number of on-site care places increases, elderly people still sometimes resist moving to one, Handelman said. “I have people who drive around the complex but can’t get out of their cars because they’re afraid,” he said. “They see somebody sleeping out on the porch and say ‘I’m not going there.’” Baker said another problem hurting today’s seniors is dwindling personal funds, most of which are now going to cover health care costs. “Basically, you have a trust fund full of IOUs,” she said. Respess, who now runs a financial planning service in Salisbury, said seniors must understand that the odds are they will have to take care of themselves financially. “I try to convince them that it’s not practical to depend on their children to take care of them,” he said. “Retirement is basically unemployment, so it’s important that they make it last.” Fore most seniors, retirement does not mean financial security, Respess said. “When they retire, they’re just leaving a demanding situation,” he said. “It’s not that they don’t want to work, it’s just that they want better control of the situation.” Baker said state and county funding can help defray some costs for elderly needs, but in Maryland’s economic crunch, money is in short supply. “How do you balance limited resources?” she said. “Do we invest in James M. Bennett High School or do you build assisted living care?” But while there are many concerns about a potential large migration of elderly residents, it can also be a boon for entrepreneurs. B.J. Corbin, executive director for the Lower Shore Work Force Alliance, said the area will soon have a trained and willing labor force available for them. “Employers need to identify what occupations are in demand and see which ones are suitable for seniors,” he said. With senior citizens having about half their money available as disposable income, businesses should also adjust to a new clientele, said Memo Diriker, executive director of BEACON. Another aspect officials will have to address on the Lower Shore is catering to the changing interests of its new seniors, said Carol Lienhard, president of Maryland’s Association of Area Agencies on Aging. Lienhard said the shift was evident when a new senior center was opened in Howard County this year. “Before, we used to offer craft classes for our crocheting grannies,” she said. “Now they’re all concerned about being healthy.” Though the boom is still far off, Marla Morris of the Wicomico County Department of Social Services said the forum was a good tool to help agencies that might be affected by a senior influx. “It’s essential,” she said. “We need to coordinate.” Del. Norman Conway, D-38B-Wicomico, said adequately accommodating the elderly is necessary. “These seniors are who put us where we are today,” he said.

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