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Helping seniors cope

October 13, 2005

For at least the past six years, senior citizens 85 or older have made up the fastest growing segment of the population in Washington County.

But the growth in life expectancy hasn't always been matched by development of ways to help senior citizens deal with everything from the search for affordable dwellings to end-of-life arrangements.

To assist with such issues, a group of local organizations has formed the Washington County Longevity Impact Group. It's one of 350 such groups across the nation working on the problems with the White House Conference on Aging.

In 1999, The Herald-Mail did a series of articles entitled "The Future of Families." The section on senior citizens is as relevant today as when it was written.

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The articles noted that although there seemed to be enough nursing homes and assisted-living centers in the county to deal with those who require such services, government assistance doesn't always cover the full cost of such services.

But for low-income seniors and those with psychiatric problems, there aren't enough spaces for all who will need low-cost dwellings and special mental-health services.

As a result, experts on aging recommended members of the baby boom generation should think seriously about increasing the rate at which they save and consider looking into long-term care insurance.

Seniors also need to think about different living arrangements if they want to remain active outside of an institutional setting. The idea of a roommate or two may seem daunting to someone who has been accustomed to living alone, but having someone with whom to share expenses and household chores may suit many people better than a solitary existence.

Barring an accident or illness, all of us will be senior citizens. It is up to the community to do as much as possible to keep seniors healthy and comfortable, no matter what their income levels.

That means supporting facilities such as Holly Place and Holly Place II, two Hagerstown assisted-living centers set up to take care of the indigent elderly.

It also means taking time to check on and visit with seniors who are neighbors or relatives, so that they stay connected to the present-day world. Such contact will also help the rest of us remember the sacrifices that so many made in the past to get us here.

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