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IN THE KNOW: Age doesn't define senior citizens

There's no such thing as old age anymore! Times have changed and continue to change rapidly in the number of years persons are expected to live. According to the 2014 Census, we have 43 million Americans 65 and older. By 2050, that number is expected to double and the age of 100 years will not be rare. We definitely need to "rethink" what the term "old age" means. We also have to rethink what policies need to be put in place to ensure that reaching some magic number like 65 years does not mean the person is on the shelf and should just observe, rather than participate, in the life of our communities.

We recently had the opportunity to include some of our 75+ citizens in a survey conducted by NDSU on aging in the rural areas of North Dakota and Minnesota. The results are interesting. Please note that the survey was done in the rural areas of our two states. It was also carefully conducted among all income and physical status individuals. Each person received two surveys — one in the spring and a second in the fall to note the significance of any changes.

A total of 90 percent of this group want to age in place and 80 percent want to live in their own home. The rural areas, such as ours, rank extremely high on that list! There are many reasons. Foremost is that our area provides excellent and available health care. In- home services are also increasing rapidly.

The stereotypes of age do not prohibit employment or volunteer opportunities. Age is accepted and we are well known for that. The Minnesota State AARP newsletter recently gave accolades for all the things being done in our area to continue to enhance the quality of life here for all ages. All non-profits and services in the area are working together to maintain that quality.

Current areas being strongly addressed are: mental health, transportation, affordable and available health care, and honest and available service persons. Most importantly, they want to remain part of their community! Policy makers should consider the potential cost savings from aging in place found in this study. It is cost effective for the families involved and in other dollars spent for care outside the home.

No longer do we have the antiquated medical theory that the only healthy thing to do as we age is to rest. Now we are encouraged to exercise, work longer or get involved with something new. We must address policies aimed toward healthy aging and avoid stereotyped age groups.

Affordable, reliable, and available transportation is a vital area of need. The need for public transportation is the force driving many of our aging population to relocate to metro areas where public buses are readily available.

Interestingly, the needs of the older members of the community are shared by all ages. Health care, transportation, education, opportunity to be involved and contribute are shared. That is a force that encourages us to all work together.

The biggest fear among the Baby Boomers is being branded as a senior citizen. Initially it was a title that gave reference to a higher rank in experience and a priority of birth order. It was a title of respect. Now this age group feels it calls them old. Not so in our rural areas! Today's dictionaries look at it as one word and defines senior citizens as persons who are retired and living on a pension. It does not refer to age. So, have a great happy New Year regardless of your years of life.

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Kathryn LeBrasseur is board president of the Alexandria Senior Center. "In the Know" is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.

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