FRANKFORT – One of the country’s biggest challenges over the next few decades is ensuring that the “golden years” truly live up to their name for our older citizens.
As more Baby Boomers begin turning 65 – the first began celebrating that milestone birthday in January – this group of citizens promises to be a fastest-growing demographic for quite some time.
According to the Kentucky State Data Center, there are almost 600,000 people in the Commonwealth who are 65 and older. This group is nine percent larger than in 2000, but is expected to grow by nearly 30 percent this decade and another 27 percent in the next. Some counties, almost all of which are in the central portion of the state, will see this population double between 2010 and 2030.
Earlier this summer, the U.S. Census Bureau released figures showing that this graying trend is especially pronounced in our rural communities. In fact, 12 counties that lost population during the past decade nonetheless saw double-digit growth of those 65 and older.
When it comes to our older citizens, the General Assembly has a long legacy of doing what it can to help. We have established more stringent oversight of assisted-living facilities, for example, and we created the “Golden Alert” law that greatly speeds up search efforts for vulnerable adults who are missing.
Earlier this year, my colleagues and I passed two new laws that will better protect senior citizens. Under the first, those found guilty of exploiting, neglecting or abusing adults in their care will no longer be able to serve in a position of authority over the victim or the victim’s estate. This law also creates a trust fund that will help pay for programs that target elder abuse.
The other new law, meanwhile, will make it easier to guardians of vulnerable adults when more than one state is involved, as long as the other state has adopted the same model legislation. This should reduce the red tape the guardians have to overcome to carry out their duties.
One bill that did not become law, but that passed the Kentucky House unanimously, would have established an adult-abuse registry. This would have kept those convicted of these crimes from working in such places as nursing homes. My goal is to see this passed in 2012, because Governor Beshear has said his budget proposal would fund it.
With that in mind, he announced last month that the state had received a $3 million grant to greatly improve background checks of those who work in our long-term care facilities; instead of using name-based checks alone, these facilities will soon be able to also rely on fingerprint scans.
As the number of older citizens increases, the reports of elder abuse have predictably grown as well. A congressional report in March estimated that 14 percent of older Americans have been abused, though it said the figure could be even higher.
Here in Kentucky, there were 13,000 reports of abuse last year involving those 60 or older. The state’s Cabinet for Health and Family Services said almost 1,900 were substantiated, and 300 criminal charges were filed.
If you are aware of anyone being harmed, you can call the cabinet’s abuse hotline – anonymously, if you prefer – at 1-800-752-6200. The cabinet also offers many other programs that help senior citizens, by the way. The Kentucky Department for Aging and Independent Living can provide more information by calling (502) 564-6930.
One new area of concern for older Kentuckians is known as the “grandparent scam.” Late last month, the Attorney General’s office said victims have been defrauded by about $40,000 in recent weeks because of people posing to be their grandchild. Often, the criminal says he or she is in trouble in another state or country and requests money for help. Sometimes the scammers pose as police officers or lawyers who claim to be calling on behalf of a relative, so be aware if you get these types of calls.
As the efforts I’ve mentioned hopefully show, the state has made a lot of strides when it comes to improving the quality of life of our older citizens. But there is always room to do more. In the months and years ahead, we will see what else we can do to make a difference.
For now, I would like to hear from you if you have any thoughts or concerns about this or any other issue. If you would like to write, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601.
You can also leave a message for me or for any legislator at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.