Aging 1

Older adults play bingo at Ashland County Council on Aging, a non-profit organization that offers services for the aging population. 

Nationwide, the growth of the age 65 and older population is outpacing overall population growth.

By 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau projects, more than 20 percent of U.S. residents will be 65 or older, compared with 13 percent in 2010 and just 10 percent in 1970.

The demographic shift is even more dramatic in rural and rust belt communities in the Midwest, like north central Ohio.

The median age locally has been rising consistently since 1970. Data from the 1970 census shows Richland and Ashland counties had a median age of 27 that year, while Crawford County's median age was 28 and Knox County's was 29. Today, each of those four counties has a median age of at least 39.

Meanwhile, the overall population in Richland and Crawford counties has been declining, and population growth Ashland and Knox counties has slowed.

One effect is that a higher-than average percentage of the region's residents are over the age of 65.

Since 1970, the percentage of Richland County's population over the age of 65 has more than doubled from about 8 percent to about 19 percent.

About 20 percent of residents in Crawford County, 18 percent of those in Ashland County and 17 percent of residents in Knox County were 65 years or older in 2017, according to Census Bureau estimates.

"My response to that is, 'That's a good thing,'" said Teresa Cook, vice president of marketing and development at Ohio District 5 Area Agency on Aging.

"We're living longer, and for the most part we're staying healthy ... Just think how healthcare has improved since my grandmother was in her 60s to now, when my parents are in their 80s. The availability of healthcare and the technology has just improved and changed so much over the last 20 or 30 years,” Cook said.

But the growth of the aging population does put a strain on the existing services and infrastructure in areas like health care and housing, Cook said.

Local communities will have to continue to grow those services to meet the need, even as the ratio of adults in the workforce to those in retirement age continues to shrink.

At the turn of the 20th century, there were 14 working-age adults for every person age 65 or older. By 2014, there were approximately 4 working-age people per older adult, and the ratio may drop to about 2 to 1 by 2060, the Census Bureau projects.

The shift is taking a toll on individuals as well.  

While the older adults are dealing with issues like social isolation, loss of mobility and mental and physical health concerns, the growing number of caregivers in the community faces their own set of economic, physical, emotional and logistical challenges.

"I think what we're seeing that's really changing is the awareness of the caregiver," Cook said. "Maybe 30 years ago people thought, 'I just take care of mom. That's what I do, and I would never think of asking for outside help.' And now, many people are staying in that workforce longer, and they're trying to balance work, aging parents and maybe even dealing with grandchildren issues."

The supply of unpaid caregivers -- generally family members who care for older adults -- is not keeping pace with the demand, a study from the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University shows.

There's also a shortage of paid caregivers, like home health aides and State Tested Nursing Assistants.

The issues associated with the aging population cannot be ignored, as the graying of the population is only expected to continue.

By 2020, the Scripps Gerontogy Center projects, one in four Ohioans will be 60 years of age or older. By 2050, 29 percent of the state's population will be at least 60, 24 percent will be at least 65 and 6 percent will be at least 85.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: SpherionVisiting Nurses AssociationPR Machine WorksNanogate/Jay SystemsDRM ProductionsOhioHealth Mansfield HospitalRichland BankMechanics BankArea Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source follow this link.

This Solutions Journalism story is brought to you in part by the generous support of our Newsroom Partners: Spherion, Visiting Nurses Association, PR Machine Works, Nanogate/Jay Systems, DRM Productions, OhioHealth Mansfield Hospital, Richland Bank, Mechanics Bank, Area Agency on Aging, and many others. To learn more about Solutions Journalism at Richland Source click the "About Solutions Journalism."