Maine is getting old, and we don’t mean geologically. Maine’s citizens are getting older.

Maine has the oldest median age in the country and the second-smallest percentage of the population under the age of 18. These two factors all combine to give Maine a rapidly aging population and slow population growth.

The Maine State Planning Office projects that in 2013 an estimated 17.81 percent of central Maine’s population will be older than 65 years of age, and 41.54 percent will be older than 55. These percentages are expected to grow to 20.48 percent and 43.64 percent, respectively, by the year 2018.

This is the reality of the aging of the baby boomer generation. Its impact will be felt by every citizen from the demand for health care for its senior citizens, to fewer available workers for employers and an aging work force.

Changes in community infrastructure will be a challenge with a decline in residential and commercial tax base in many towns and a shift in service demand to accommodate an aging population.

Spectrum Generations, the Central Maine Area Agency on Aging and central Maine’s aging and disability resource center, takes its role as the experts on aging in central Maine very seriously.

We strongly believe in people’s ability to live their best quality lives at home, in their own community, where they can be safe, independent and comfortable.

This ability for people to live at their healthiest, both physically and socially, has nothing to do with age, income or ability level.

Not only does this make good social sense, it is good economic sense, too. Living in your own home, receiving the necessary services and supports to make that a reality, is proven to be more cost-effective than long or permanent stays at nursing facilities.

It is part of Spectrum Generations mission to help older and disabled adults age in place.

Our 2012-16 Area Plan will serve as our roadmap on how we will meet the emerging needs of central Maine’s aging and disabled population over the next four years.

During the development of our plan, we participated in and conducted numerous surveys and focus groups to assess the needs of central Maine.

The needs assessment data revealed many common themes in terms of the problems facing older adults in central Maine, particularly those with low resources and/or living in rural areas.

Seniors, caregivers and providers identified problems with transportation for older adults who remain in their homes, difficulties in accessing information about the services and eligibility of available programs, and challenges in finding the resources to pay for in-home care for older adults who are unable to afford it.

Spectrum Generations sees the next four years as an opportunity to do better at assisting central Maine seniors and disabled adults in aging in place through:

* Proactive caring by being well-versed and ready to assist in solving what crisis or situation life throws at our seniors and disabled adults. Through public education, we will be better able to inform communities about options for aging in place and help people choose what is best to meet their current and future needs.

* Work more collaboratively with our community partners to be more effective in dealing with the difficult issues such as access to transportation in rural counties, modifying homes or paying for utilities on a limited budget.

* Leverage our volunteer force more effectively so that they can be our community ambassadors and reach more older and disabled adults and their caregivers than we could ever hope to reach via more traditional means.

* Serve fresh food from local farms through our “We Sustain Maine” initiative; meeting the increasing demand for Meals on Wheels while providing better-tasting, nutritious meals for central Maine’s homebound seniors and disabled adults.

* Offer evidenced based health and wellness programs and services, which have been demonstrated to be effective for improving health and well-being.

We believe that by improving our services and supports, older and disabled adults will maintain their independence and well-being through consumer and caregiver access to opportunities that expand health knowledge, self-management skills and well-being.

Gerard Queally is president and CEO of Spectrum Generations, the Central Maine Area Agency on Aging, celebrating 40 years of helping older and disabled adults. Deb Halm is vice president of operations with Spectrum Generations with more than 27 years of experience.

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