Top Aging Expert Urges Santa Clara County To Prepare For Elder Boom

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Elderly person gets pushed in a wheelchair

(AP)

CBS SF Bay (con't)

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SAN JOSE (KCBS) – Aging baby boomers are more likely to need counseling and other mental health services as the population turns gray simply because of their longevity, according to the Obama administration’s point person on disability and aging.

Fernando Torres-Gil of the National Council on Disability urged South Bay health officials not to wait when it comes to tackling depression, isolation and other mental health issues among the growing senior population.

“All of us are at risk at some point in our lives of depression and isolation,” Torres-Gil said Wednesday during the keynote address at Santa Clara County’s first Older Adult Summit.

Older Americans, “especially baby boomers, will one day face those problems,” he said.

The problems have only grown since the Clinton era, when Torres-Gil became first Assistant Secretary for Aging in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

KCBS’ Mike Colgan Reports:

Demographers calculate that some 10,000 Americans turn 65 every day, and the population will continue to age at that rate for the next 19 years.

As the number of older Americans grows, so too does the challenge of reaching them since they typically shy away from getting help, said Maria Fuentes, the Older Adult Manager at the Santa Clara County Mental Health Department.

“They’re not going to pick up the telephone and say they need help. We need to be there with our compassion and empathy and reach them first. Very few people are going to make the call to the 800 number,” she said.

Supervisor Dave Cortese said more county leaders are beginning to recognize the importance of a policy agenda that puts senior citizens first because they themselves are entering their golden years.

“I’m turning 55 in a couple of days. Many of my friends are hitting 60. When you get this age, you start to realize that you are standing on the shoulders of those that came before you. And that’s the population that needs help right now.”

Senior citizens who joined the hundreds of service providers and government representatives at the conference are part of a generation that stays in the workforce longer than their parents or grandparents did.

Katy Mason, 76, said the high cost of living in California made it impossible for her to retire. “I’ve got a 401K and I’ve got various retirement things, but so long as I live in Santa Clara County, I can’t stop working. I will have to move somewhere to a lower cost area.”

“I really don’t want to leave California,” she said.

Stories like hers show how important it is to expand the social safety net for all people, said 84-year-old Lawrence Smith.

“As a senior, I’m also concerned about the young people and people who are working and paying for all these things,” said Smith.

Smith’s proposal goes against the grain in an era of smaller government. He said the Medicare program should be expanded to cover all Americans regardless of age.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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