By AlaskaWatchman.com

Aging affects each and every one of us. If we live long enough, we will face this natural process in our own individual ways.

I say “individual” because we are all unique and have experiences that belong to us alone. Some circumstances, however, are predictable, such as the fact that Alaska’s elderly population is rapidly expanding.

According to the latest U.S. Census data, Alaska has had the fastest growing senior population per capita in the nation for the past decade, with those 60 and older now representing nearly 20% of the state’s overall population. It’s not just Alaska, though, the entire nation is aging.

That leads us to some serious challenges. How will we prepare? What can we do to ensure a safe and independent future for those of us who will soon be in this group?

This is a critical issue to plan for because elderly people can develop chronic health problems and may need help, sometimes specialized. If there are thousands of us, and a percentage need “specialized help,” how will we get it? Also, where will we live and obtain food or transportation if we cannot drive? Who will advocate for us in medical emergencies? 

As we continue to prepare for this reality, there is much work to do.

Gov. Mike Dunleavy has addressed this along with the Department of Health and Social Services through the Alaska State Plan for Senior Services.

Furthermore, The Alaska Commission on Aging holds several meetings each year with speakers from various governmental organizations and groups devoted to protecting seniors’ rights. These individuals aid seniors with housing, provide help for those with brain trauma or other related challenges, offer food distribution, travel, healthcare options and other critical assistance, including financial.

These meetings are open to the public. If you haven’t attended one, you’d be surprised to discover what is available for seniors, both now and for those of us in the future. 

There are, however, two critical needs that must be addressed – specialized nursing for chronically disabled elderly people, (like those with advancing dementia), and facilities to house these precious individuals.

COVID levied a huge blow to Alaska’s skilled nursing workforce, which is needed in order to provide these services. I live in Interior Alaska where these concerns have been expressed to me directly from local nursing homes. 

How do we ensure a safe and independent future for our elderly? 

We can start by spreading the word and encouraging people to become skilled nurses. Talk to your elected representatives about listening to the commissioners with the Alaska Commission on Aging. We are here to help. We gather information, discuss options in great length and then suggest the most helpful options for our senior population.

We must also personally prepare ourselves. If you don’t have a power of attorney or Advanced Directive, please get that squared away.

We also need to research ways to delay or prevent chronic health problems in our own lives. These result from strokes, dementia, heart attacks, diabetes and other conditions. There are, however, preventative measures such as high antioxidant diets with lots of fruit and veggies, exercise (dancing, walking, skiing, swimming, stretching), having animals around, going outside, maintaining a spiritual life, keeping the weight off, eating meat from healthy animals, finding joy in life, laughing more, sleeping seven to eight hours a night, socializing regularly, listening to or playing music and taking vitamins and minerals. 

The days of living in fear and isolation have to end. We are not created to be alone; it’s mentally and physically very unhealthy. We need to get out and live in joy and peace with one another again. 

Alaska is a great place to grow old because so many people care and look out for each other here. It’s also one of the most beautiful locations on earth. We just need to prepare for a growing elderly population. Together we can do it.

LEARN MORE

— To learn more about the Alaska Commission on Aging, click here.

Click here to read the Alaska State Plan for Senior Services.

The views expressed here are those of the author.

Click here to support the Alaska Watchman.

Commissioner on aging warns Alaska to prep for exploding senior population

Pamala Samash
Pamala Samash is a longtime Fairbanks area resident. She currently serves on the Alaska Commission on Aging, and is the president of Right To Life – Interior Alaska.


4 Comments

  • Ekim P Kcidrub says:

    Stop the firing of people in the field of nursing and care givers who refuse to take the jab and you will have more people to take care of us elderly people. Stop the firing of anyone who doesn’t want the jab.

  • Will Johns says:

    The article devolved from looking forward to the needs of Alaska seniors to a negative mental health diagnosis & declaration about those same Alaska Seniors that live alone, and then included a proclamation of the living conditions, apparently from our creator, as to how Alaska seniors need to live.
    And I quote: “The days of living in fear and isolation have to end. We are not created to be alone; it’s mentally and physically very unhealthy. We need to get out and live in joy and peace with one another again.”
    Always good to know that the author is here to “help” our “mentally ill” seniors and to clarify out creators intent about how our Alaska Seniors are to live. Apparently so our Alaska Seniors can go out and live in joy and peace with other Alaskans, who internally, consider our Alaska seniors to be hermits, and to be mentally ill.

  • Elizabeth Henry says:

    Good article. The third paragraph from the end does hit the proverbial nail square in addressing self responsibility in aging as best as possible. Eating well and making healthy food choices, abstaining from excess (sugar, unhealthy fats, alcohol), regular lifelong exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, as well as mental and spiritual health, all help to allow one to age gracefully. Having hobbies and interests, volunteering, recreational activities that involve others all help with mental health. Consider joining a gym. Continue learning as well. Don’t avoid mental challenge such as technology. Instead take the time to learn, your brain and confidence will be better for it. . Take classes, read challenging books, write. Avoid retiring if you are able to still work, as productivity is good for healthy aging. Use it or use it was an old saying for weight training but is applicable to aging as well! Take care of your body, mind, and spirit and push your limits as much as you are able. As an aging long time Alaskan who is practicing all the the above I can attest to the results .

  • Steve P Peterson says:

    I am now considered “elderly” at age 65, but I don’t perceive myself that way (though my body does sometimes).
    When I was younger I asked an old timer from Anchor Point if he was a sourdough. He replied that he was “soured on Alaska, but not enough dough to leave.” Many elders would like to go to a warmer place, but money is an issue for them, or they fear that society has run amuck in the L48 and they would be unsafe there. Many, however, just love Alaska for what it is and what it has given them. Many also don’t want to leave family and friends and are willing to endure the long dark/cold to be with them.

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