Alaska seniors plan for big changes
January 1, 2020
Part one of a three-part series.
In my experience you have not been able to find a book or even a website in the state of Alaska that comprehensively lays out the concerns, aspirations and plans for the future of Alaska seniors — but now you can. It is an extraordinary treasure trove of current information about seniors in Alaska.
The document has the somewhat bureaucratic title “Alaska State Plan for Senior Services FY2020 –2023,” but don’t let that fool you. Much of it is very personal, at the center of our lives and the wellbeing of our loved ones. The report focuses on issues that we care about deeply such as health, housing, financial security, personal safety and quality of life. It is sprinkled with poignant, hard-hitting quotes from seniors across the state.
“There needs to be a way to get payment for me caring for my parents since they do not have the money and cannot do things for themselves and do not want to move from their home. I can’t work when caring for them but still need to make money to meet my own basic needs...I cannot afford to move and don’t have anyone else to care for my parents in their late 80s. I am tired a lot from caring for my parents and having no time for myself, no ‘down’ time to relax. I have no personal life. I worry I will run out of energy or get sick and then my parents and I would both need help.” – Senior Survey 2018 Respondent
Specifically, what are the issues? Why do we need a planning effort at all? Since the Alaska State Plan for Senior Services was last updated four years ago, the population of seniors age 60 and older in Alaska has increased by approximately 20,000 people. By 2025, just an “augenblick” as the Germans say (a blink of the eye), there will likely be another 22,000 seniors for a grand total of 140,000. That’s a lot of us, but at the same time, State of Alaska resources for funding senior services and housing may continue to be flat or declining as they have been in recent years. You can see the imminent collision of trends.
During the next 30 years the Alaska population age 80 and older will nearly triple. We (I say “we” because I intend to be one of them) will have more need for home-based services so we can age in the comfort of our home. As a group we will require increasing health care, memory care, and behavioral health services. Where will all those services come from, and who will pay for them?
“I am mostly concerned about senior benefits. I love Alaska but can’t afford to live here. I take care of my spouse and there is not enough money to go around.” – Senior Survey 2018 Respondent
The Alaska State Plan for Senior Services is designed to be the roadmap that guides senior services in Alaska over the next four years. It provides a comprehensive plan for senior services including “meals, transportation, homemaker and family caregiver, safety and protection, adult day services, senior housing, vocational training, legal assistance, the Senior Voice,” and more.
The Alaska Commission on Aging (ACoA) conducts planning, community outreach, and advocacy for the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services. This planning effort was last updated four years ago, but the current Alaska State Plan for Senior Services is the product of a planning process initiated February 2017.
“There are very few to no services for coordination, caregiver support and other geriatric support needs except thru Medicaid/Medicaid waiver.” – Senior Survey 2018 Respondent
The planning process included conversations with 152 seniors in Wrangell, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Anchorage, the Fairbanks North Star Borough, Nome, Shishmaref, and a session for people aging with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In addition a 52-question Senior Survey was conducted in the summer of 2018, which received responses from 3,130 Alaskans age 55 and older from almost all areas of the state. Lastly, a survey was distributed to “community-based senior service provider agencies, the Alaska Pioneer Homes, assisted living and long-term care facilities and community health centers.” This survey received 126 responses.
Part two of this series on the Alaska State Plan for Seniors will focus on what elders from around the state said in their discussions, and the results from a survey of over 3,000 Alaskan seniors from all over Alaska. Part three will outline the goals and strategies designed to address key issues raised by seniors across the state.