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Senior population boom hits Cecil County

ELKTON — Sixty-five years ago, young, confident and victorious American soldiers returned from Europe and the South Pacific to the home front ready to rebuild a nation.

World War II would not only shape the way the world worked in the 1940s, but how it works more than six decades later with the aging of the “Baby Boomers” — the children of that World War II generation.

Those baby boomers, combined with their elderly surviving parents, mark a rapidly growing demographic in an aging population.

The U.S. Census Bureau announced recently that the nation’s 2010 senior population, those 65 years old or older, was the largest in census history and exceeded the nation’s total population rate from 2000 to 2010.

The number of senior citizens grew 15.1 percent nationally over the past decade, while the total U.S. population grew 9.7 percent.

Cecil County’s senior population grew by 32 percent from 2000 to 2010.

According to Maryland Department of Planning projection data, Cecil County’s senior population will increase nearly 200 percent by 2040, going from 8,995 people in 2000 to 26,860 by 2040.

Those numbers may even be too low, as the 2010 national census data exceeded the state’s projected Cecil County senior population by nearly 500 people.

For Cecil County Senior Services & Community Transit Director David Trolio, the “boomer boom” was one of the reasons he took his position nearly six months ago.

“We’re on the cusp of something big in senior care,” he said.

Trolio added that the growth of the senior citizen population would create ripples across several disciplines, including senior services, housing, health care and politics.

With the influx of baby boomer senior citizens, Trolio said the movement for housing is moving to less restrictive settings, meaning fewer assisted-living homes and more in-home living.

“Seniors will be ‘aging in place,’ which means we won’t have to change just one home, but an entire community,” he said. “Housing alone will also not be the answer, but transportation to needed supports like grocery stores, banks, health centers and pharmacies as well.”

Trolio said he intends to use focus groups from around the county to ensure that his department is supplying the services seniors say they need.

“While the movement is to live at home as long as possible, there will be inevitable growth in assisted-living facilities in the county,” he added.

Cecil County has 25 licensed assisted-living facilities with 276 beds available, but logical progression should produce increases in those numbers, Trolio said.

“With more preventative-health programs, people will live longer and therefore live long enough to need assisted-living programs,” he said.

Cecil County Health Officer Stephanie Garrity agreed that preventative health would be her department’s message to county’s seniors.

“We want to provide services in the community to keep seniors happy and healthy at home,” she said.

Ultimately, the responsibility lies on individuals to stay healthy and not unnecessarily burden health care systems, Garrity added.

“We need to take responsibility for ourselves, and that means exercising, eating right, seeing your doctor regularly and getting your prescriptions checked,” she said.

Garrity also said that with a rise in the senior population, we would also find a rise in the number of adult caregivers.

“As our mothers and fathers age, many children have to take care of them, which means we will find an increase in services targeted at caregivers including support groups and services,” she said, adding that Union Hospital in Elkton runs an adult caregiver support group.

John Ulrich, chairman of the Cecil County Democrat Central Committee, said an increase in county seniors would invariably lead to a change in tactics for political parties.

“You have to look at the fact that most of these people are on Social Security and Medicare and we need to work to protect those programs, while at the same time working to make sure those programs are solvent,” he said.

Ulrich said the county Democrats’ committee would watch the total number of registered senior voters and the number of Republicans.

“If we saw that Republicans were registering more seniors, we would probably look to register more young people as Democrats,” he added.

Ted Patterson, chairman of the Cecil County Republican Central Committee, said county Republicans would not target a rising senior population as a voting bloc.

“Part of the GOP philosophy is that we try to not look at people as groups,” he said. “I think that to change your beliefs for different groups is a dangerous and disgusting form of politics.”