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.

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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.