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Moving toward an age-friendly Minnesota: We still have much to do.

For the last few decades those working in aging painted a picture of our rapidly changing Minnesota. They targeted 2020 as a key year – the first year we will have more adults over age 65 than children in school. Twenty years ago this seemed so far way, but we are now just months from this demographic reality. The question is: Are we ready?

Minnesota consistently ranks high in our supports for older Minnesotans and their family caregivers. This is due in large part to the network of nonprofit and informal supports across the state.

That’s not to say we don’t experience significant challenges.

Significant disparities

While Minnesota is a great place to age for many, it is not true for everyone. Significant health, economic and social disparities exist in communities of color, LGBTQ communities, Native American communities, and rural communities. These disparities result in lower life expectancies, increased rates of institutionalization, decreased access to a full range of long term services and supports, and poverty. The communities often lack a voice in designing systems and policies created for them. To combat this, the Minnesota Leadership Council formed the Minnesota Diverse Elders Coalition, which is working to build a coalition of minority-serving organizations to increase their capacity for advocacy on behalf of their elders.

Rajean P. Moone
Rajean P. Moone
The second challenge is that investments in services and supports for older adults and their families have not kept pace with growing demand:

  • The last study by the Minnesota Council on Foundations showed that only 0.8% of foundation support is targeted at older adults.
  • A report by the Department of Human Services outlined the significant obstacles in the Elderly Waiver Program, a program designed for low-income older adults to receive less expensive supports in their homes rather than institutional settings
  • A recent MinnPost article noting the Hennepin County budgeting process depicts the growing trend in cutting funding for older adult services.

To combat this, the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging convenes the Finish Strong Network. This Network is a coalition of dedicated funders of aging services who explore how they can inform their peers about our changing communities.

Ageism is pervasive and persistent

Finally, older adults and their families continue to experience serious and persistent ageism. This ageism is pervasive and impacts all aspects of Minnesota life. Ageism is a significant challenge in job seeking, receiving health care services, mobility in communities, aging in place, visibility … the list is endless. Many organizations are working directly to combat this ageism. AARP launched a philosophy of “disrupt aging”; the Minnesota Board on Aging focuses efforts on a MN2030 vision; and the Long Term Care Imperative (Care Providers of Minnesota and LeadingAge Minnesota) asks all Minnesotans to “face aging.” Each of these initiatives helps in shifting the narrative of aging from one of decline, burden and dependence to opportunity, asset focus, and multigenerational benefit.

There is more that must be done. Communities across Minnesota including Alexandria, Maple Grove, Minneapolis, Northfield and Hennepin County committed to working to become more age friendly by designating as official AARP/World Health Organization Age Friendly Communities. That designation is now available to states. Eight states beat Minnesota by making their commitment to older adults and their families. Minnesota must be next.

An Age-Friendly designation would solidify the commitment to our state’s prosperous future. The first requirement in this designation is for Gov. Tim Walz to proclaim the intent of the state to commit to “Age-Friendly Minnesota,” requiring state agencies to commit to actively plan for the demographic shift and creating a collaborative public-private partnership to oversee the work. Older Minnesotans and their family members are important to – and the largest segment of – Minnesota’s communities.

Together we can continue to make Minnesota a great place to live, work, play and age. But without a few necessary steps to support communities, older adults and families across the state and to address the challenges noted above, it will be quite difficult. We are in the midst of a very predictable demographic shift, many years in the making. Let’s be ready.

Rajean P. Moone, Ph.D., LNHA, is the executive director of the Minnesota Leadership Council on Aging.


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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 11/16/2019 - 01:27 pm.

    I don’t know about the rural areas or small towns, but the first challenge I see in the Twin Cities is affordable housing–almost all the new 55+ apartment complexes are priced on the assumption that the tenants are people who cashed in when they sold their house. Yet there are many seniors who would have to spend almost their entire monthly income to afford one of these places, or indeed, most places currently for rent in the Twin Cities.

    The transportation issue is twofold. First, while getting around the Twin Cities by bus and LRT is certainly feasible in most cases, it is not nearly as good as it could be. There are too many “you can’t get there from here” situations. Second, a lot of independent living and even assisted living complexes are located without any public transit at all or perhaps a bus that is designed only for Monday to Friday downtown commuters. This leaves residents trapped unless their facility chooses to provide transportation to specific events.

  2. Submitted by Krista Boston on 11/16/2019 - 01:30 pm.

    We have even bigger problems. Greater numbers of elderly are going to need the waiver and the waiver assessment is embedded in Mnchoices. In reading the recent four part series in the Strib and learning that MNchoices doesn’t actually work has made that clear new leadership in disability services and aging services is needed. Aging policy issues are led by the DHS aging and adult services division. That’s telling in and of itself. It’s clearly time for new leadership in this critical area. This article basically reads like articles of the past five – ten – twenty years ago. What we need is a refresh and a restart. Put the Board on Aging in the department of Administration and remove it from Dhs the aging division. Dhs is no longer a functioning agency. A common director for the area that funds benefits for Medicaid along with the same leader that is supposed to oversee the ombudsman for long term care (under the board on aging) is a serious concern and misstep by the state and causes major conflicts of interest.

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