The Finger Lakes region’s fast-growing older adult population is facing health challenges that are leading to glaring health inequities and reduced life expectancy, according to a newly released report.
And the findings are likely to impact area businesses.
After a hiatus driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sage II Commission was convened by Common Ground Health in 2022 to produce a report called the SAGE II Report: Planning for the older adult population in the Finger Lakes region, 2023.
In response to the findings, the Sage II Commission made recommendations to address the challenges.
They include expanding and creating equitable social health and prevention programs to solve disparities caused by race, ethnicity, income and geography, and increasing the integration and coordination of medical and social services.
Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground Health, said the Rochester business community can play a leading role in addressing the challenges highlighted in the report.
“For decades, Rochester’s business community has led local responses to the most challenging issues facing our community,” Norwood said. “As we see a dramatic increase in the number of older adults in our community, we will continue to need forward-thinking corporate and entrepreneurial leaders to help think of new ways to ensure that every elder’s needs are met.”
Norwood said needed support includes collaboration and partnerships to address the pressures facing older adults, recognizing and addressing the impact of ageism and by developing a successful regional workforce strategy to enable employees to meet their caregiving obligations.
“Building our reputation as a community with employers that are partners in responding to childcare and adult caregiver challenges is going to be critical to attracting and retaining a skilled and committed workforce.”
Ann Marie Cook, president/CEO of Lifespan and co-chair of the SAGE II Commission, said the data on the older adult population should be of interest to the local business community, because this group fuels the economy, provides
volunteer services, pays taxes, delivers caregiving services and has purchasing power.
To assist in implementing the recommendations of the Sage II report, businesses could provide flexibility to family caregivers so that they are able to care for loved ones, assist with recruiting workers to our area and end ageist practices that discourage people from working longer, she said.
Cook said another key finding of the report was how COVID-19 substantially impacted the lives of older adults.
“It caused loneliness and isolation which affected older adults’ mental and physical health,” she said.
The pandemic also strained care systems — home care and institutional care — in ways never imagined, Cook said.
The commission not only had to look at those challenges, she said, but it also had to consider several other issues.
They included the increase in the older adult population, a decrease in family caregivers, the increase in poverty among older adults living in Rochester, the severe workforce shortage issue and difficulties accessing needed services, such as affordable housing and transportation.
Ageism continues to be an issue, Cook said, referring to the report, which stated, “Ageism is an existential threat to our work and the well-being of older adults.”
Combating ageism is one of nine priority areas in the report for improvement. The others are:
The recommendations are made all that more urgent by the growth of the older adult population in the Finger Lakes and the decline in younger adults in the region, according to the report.
The trend will only grow more pronounced by 2040 and create a large shortage of caregivers for older adults, as well as unmet social services’ needs.
Between 2015 and 2040, the adult population between the ages of 65 and 84 will have grown by 34 percent (from 180,528 to 241,761). During the same period, the adult population over 85 years old will double in the region (from 31,128 to 62,722).
Conversely, the population between the ages of 45 and 64 will shrink by 13 percent.
The data is important because it highlights that while the older adult population is growing dramatically and will soon outstrip the facilities and services now in place, the young adult population is decreasing.
The results hit close to home for Norwood, whose adult children live outside the Finger Lakes region.
“I am personally aware of how a decrease in the number of available family caregivers and health care workers will only compound the challenge of meeting the needs of older adults,” he said.
Another one of the key findings of the report is that poverty among older adults is widespread and growing throughout the Finger Lakes region, Norwood said.
The Sage II report references The Elder Index, a measure of the income seniors will need to afford housing, health care, transportation, food, clothing, personal hygiene, household items and other basic needs.
The report looked at the average of the Elder Index of each of the nine counties in Finger Lakes region and found that the regional Elder Index is about equal to double the Federal Poverty Limit for both single adults and couples.
“Many of our neighbors are struggling,” Norwood said. “If we want our older adults to be able to meet their basic needs and age in place with dignity, we need to make sure our eligibility measures realistically estimate the income seniors need.”
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