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Communities for a Lifetime Minnesota Legislation

by Mike Weber, CEO, Volunteers of America Minnesota

Recent publicity about the future of Medicare emphasizes the impact of the growing number of seniors. Those of us carrying new AARP membership cards begin to wonder whether the rest of society will welcome retiring baby boomers. News of the impending bankruptcy of Social Security also raises the specter of seniors no longer being supported and appreciated. But with the recent passage of Communities for a Lifetime legislation, Minnesota’s communities have taken the first tangible step towards affirmatively and positively welcoming the growing number of seniors who will soon outnumber school children.

For decades, the population trends have been clear. Life expectancy is growing, and the birth rate is slowing. The proportion of seniors will be increasing for at least the next thirty years. This growing number of seniors will live longer, most with some level of increasing frailty that will threaten their independence. Combine this fact with the clear intent of seniors and their families to avoid premature or unnecessary reliance on nursing homes, and two scenarios arise. First, we can envision a negative picture of seniors growing more frail and remaining in their own homes or apartments without any supports or services to counter the impact of the frailty, with the resulting loss of quality of life. Or second, we can envision a positive picture of seniors aging, able to remain in their own homes or apartments with the supports and services to assure continuing quality of life.

This second picture is the one that Communities for a Lifetime promotes. The Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging was formed to increase recognition of these demographics and to urge multiple sectors of society to help make this second picture a reality. The Leadership Council unveiled this legislation at the Aging Summit that the Vital Aging Network cosponsored on January 13. Now, just a few months later, the legislation is a reality.

Communities for a Lifetime envisions communities that welcome a growing population of seniors. It envisions communities that offer the opportunity to serve in a second career, as a volunteer and community leader, continuing to give back to the community. It offers a variety of options for affordable, accessible housing. It provides opportunities for socializing, recreation and activities that preserve health and independence. It offers a wide array of home- and community-based services to support ongoing independent living. These characteristics are among the seventeen factors that communities have identified as the essence of a community that cares for its elders.

The legislation calls on the Board on Aging to refine this picture of a caring community  further, in cooperation with seniors, cities, counties, service providers, advocates and others. It also calls on the Board to recommend a formal process by which any community can voluntarily seek designation as a Community for a Lifetime. We look forward to many such communities in Minnesota.

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