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Aging population a challenge

Our population is aging at a rapid rate. About one in 14 Denton County residents is age 65 or older, according to census data. The 65-and-older population has more than doubled since 2000, and regional officials don’t expect the rate to slow down.

Denton County showed 32,082 people older than 65 among its residents in 2000. By 2010, the number more than doubled, census data shows. By 2023, the 65-and-older population is expected to top 179,000, according to data from the North Central Texas Area Agency on Aging.

In the 1990s, baby boomers were in their economically productive years and represented nearly one-third of the U.S. population, according to a U.S. Department of Commerce report. The first wave of baby boomers began turning 65 in 2011.

Just as baby boomers had an impact on the educational system and the labor market, they could strain services and programs needed by the senior population, officials say.

By 2030, the federal government estimates there will be 91 million Americans age 60 and older. And Texas will be the home of a projected 6.7 million of those seniors, more than doubling the number from 2010.

Nearly 1 million are expected to be 85 or older.

But officials are worried that many government programs designed to serve older Americans are at risk — at the very time we need them most. The 65-and-older group that depends on these programs is the fastest-growing segment of the population, and regional officials and experts say they believe resources aren’t growing fast enough.

“It’s a difficult situation,” said Doni Green, director of the North Central Texas Area Agency on Aging. “It’s a wonderful thing to grow old, but what makes me nervous is wondering if we’re adequately prepared to handle the growth.”

For the first time, the North Central Texas Area Agency on Aging is having its budget reduced going into its next fiscal year. It’s a trend that has hit many state agencies.

During the recent legislative session, legislators filed several bills seeking to provide relief for senior residents. However, many of those bills never made it to the governor’s desk, according to a Texas Legislature report.

The Texas Department on Aging and Disability Services reported that the state faces a shortage of direct-service workforce members for community-based services, which will threaten the independence of frail or older at-risk residents, especially in rural areas.

Finding ways to reverse the critical shortage will be one of the many issues facing Texas policymakers and providers of long-term services and support, the department reported.

James Swan, a professor of applied gerontology at the University of North Texas, said Denton County and the nation face some new challenges and some old ones regarding the growing elderly population.

“The government has to do something,” Swan said. “The state has to put money into its seniors. It’s that simple. It’s either that, or watch the state struggle.”

We agree, but we also believe that Americans need to shoulder more responsibility for their own futures. Green said one reason seniors struggle is because they aren’t prepared for life after retirement, and neither are their children or any supporting family members.

It may be too late for some seniors, but those who still have a few years before retirement need to change their thinking and start preparing for what could be some tough, lean years.

We also need to make sure government officials are treating this threat to our nation with the seriousness it deserves.

Instead of cutting programs designed to help older Americans, we need to find ways to expand them to meet the growing demand.

It is clear that serving the needs of an aging population could be the greatest challenge facing our nation today.

We need to find effective solutions, and we need to find them soon — we’re already out of time.