Florida Leads States in Effort to Provide More Elder Care

Article excerpt

In a light-filled room, elderly men and women seated in a circle giggle in delight as a golden-haired toddler throws a ball to them. At a table several feet away, other seniors help a little girl make butter.

The site is All Saints Episcopal Center - a day care for both children and elderly.

The children like having the adults around, but it's the elderly here who reap the most benefits, says Penny Borgia, director of this day care in a residential section of Jacksonville, Fla. "If we didn't have the center, most would have to be institutionalized or put in nursing homes." This intergenerational program and others like it are garnering more attention in Florida, as citizens grapple with with the effects of an aging society. While Florida has long had the largest population of senior citizens in the country, in coming years the proportion of state residents age 65 and older will rise dramatically, with important implications for Florida and other states. The projected increase is attributed to the aging of the large baby-boom population, continued retiree migration, and more people who are living longer. By 2010, Florida will have 3.3 million people over age 65, up from 2.3 million in 1990. The numbers of seniors age 85 and older are expected to triple during the same period - from 210,000 to 631,000. At issue is the cost of providing care to greater numbers of elderly at a time when Social Security and Medicare are in need of reform. The phenomenon is also putting a squeeze on more families, who find they are unprepared to handle the financial and emotional challenges of aging parents, growing children, and their own retirement. "In demography, we refer to this {aging of baby boomers and more people living past 85} as a revolution," says Ray Coward, director of the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Florida in Gainesville. "We just have not gone through this before, and it's something we can't ignore.... People see the state of Florida as going through what the rest of the country will go through." With the tidal wave on the horizon, some here are urging both the state and the public to get more involved. This fall a new group, the Florida Commission on Aging With Dignity, started a public education campaign to alert people to the current and future demands for health care and long-term care in Florida. …