AUGUSTA — Preventing abuse, exploitation and neglect of the elderly was the focus of the first working group to meet since a statewide summit on Maine’s challenges as the state with the oldest population.

The 16-member group, organized by House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and the Maine Council on Aging, met Friday at the Maine Health Access Foundation in Augusta.

Made up of law enforcement professionals, state officials, service providers and community members, the group is expected to develop an action plan to address personal and financial safety concerns of many older Mainers.

MAKING SENIORS FEEL SAFE

“The first step to building more age-friendly communities is making sure our seniors feel safe in their homes and communities,” Eves said in a news release. “We need to take stock of what’s happening around the state to combat elder abuse and build on best practices.”

Eves was to address the group at Friday’s meeting, which was led by Jessica Maurer, the council’s co-chairwoman, and Sagadahoc County Sheriff Joel Merry.

A collaborative, statewide effort to prevent elder abuse is one goal of the Blueprint for Action on Aging, which the council issued in March. The report followed the Maine Summit on Aging in January, which drew more than 370 people from across the state to address a wide variety of aging issues affecting Maine communities.

Maine is the oldest state based on median age (43.5 years), largely because it has a dwindling younger population, and it’s the second-oldest state based on its proportion of people 65 and older (17 percent), according to the U.S. Census. Florida is No. 1 with 18.2 percent.

Maine also has the nation’s highest proportion of baby boomers – 29 percent of its 1.3 million residents were born in the years from 1946 to 1964 – and they’re turning 65 at a rate of 18,250 a year, according to AARP Maine.

By 2030, more than 25 percent of Mainers will be 65 or older, and that is expected to put additional strain on health care, housing, transportation, social service and long-term care programs that already are failing to meet seniors’ needs.

BLUEPRINT FOR ACTION

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram is examining the various impacts of Maine’s aging population in an ongoing special investigative series, “The Challenge of Our Age.”

The Blueprint for Action on Aging lays out a community-centered approach and key legislative steps for improving housing, transportation, health care, public safety and employment opportunities for elderly residents across Maine. Working groups will be convened to address each area, and are expected to issue reports in December, said Maurer, who is executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

On Friday, the working group on elder abuse was expected to begin looking for ways to increase the number and awareness of daily check-in programs that make regular contact with older adults.

The group planned to review a variety of existing check-in programs to develop a list of recommended best practices and brainstorm ways to promote similar efforts in communities where check-in programs are lacking.

“It’s a really important service because it addresses the isolation and exploitation that confront many older Mainers,” Maurer said.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

kbouchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: KelleyBouchard