The Age Wave: A Call to Action

Monday, September 26, 2016

With an aging population, longer lifespans and the accompanying health-care challenges that go hand-in-hand, Michigan gerontology and care experts say there is a key role for foundations to play in helping their respective communities.

Four leading spokespeople in the areas of health and aging addressed the trends, issues and needs at The Age Wave: A Call to Action session held during the CMF Annual Conference, which was sponsored by the Michigan Grantamkers in Aging, a CMF affinity group.

Michigan, along with the rest of the nation, is undergoing an unprecedented shift when it comes to aging, according to Tom Jankowski, associate director for research, Institute of Gerontology, Wayne State University. “Today, 16 percent of our population are seniors and by 2030 that figure will rise to 20 percent,” said Jankowski. “This joins other factors that we all have to deal with as a society: lower birth rates, people living older and longer, an aging baby boomer population – and all of that exacerbated by economic struggles. On top of that, our most frail population – those 85 and older – will continue to grow for the next 15 years."

In 33 of Michigan’s 83 counties, there are more people 65 years and older than those 17 years old and younger. “Never in history have we seen this before," Jankowski said. With this aging population comes more problems and concerns for those hitting this age bracket, including the need for more, better and increasingly expensive health care services; the need for better mass transit; and both home and outside environmental safety concerns, he noted.

These societal changes also will have an impact on the role of foundations.

“There will be more requests for grants to study the needs and programs of this aging group. Changing community infrastructure needs. Health programs. Transportation. Governmental services. It all comes into play…and with this growing population base, it becomes more important to anticipate the needed changes now.”

Paula Cunningham agrees. She is the Michigan director of AARP, the nonprofit, non-partisan organization with a membership of 1.4 million that helps people 50 and older improve the quality of their lives.

“Our organization looks out for those 50 and older and what does – and will – impact their lives,” said Cunningham. “We need to be involved in legislation that impacts aging. We need to work collectively and collaboratively with foundations and other nonprofits as we move forward on all these important issues," Cunningham said.  “Understand that 10,000 people per day in the U.S. are turning 65 years old. This brings into play issues such as social security, living communities, fraud protection, medical services availability and so much more. AARP has several initiatives such as the Encore Entrepreneurs and fraud alert programs, but we need to expand into other service areas to support this growing number of our population."

Foundations are playing an increasingly important role in helping fund the research studies, program development and more that are needed as demographics change and evolve for our elderly population, Cunningham said.

Dawn Siggett, vice president of legislative and government affairs, Fidelis SecureCare of Michigan, shared that aging baby boomers need to start focusing more on health-care services and the inter-connected insurance industry if they are to be prepared for what the future is bringing. Siggett recommended people become more familiar with MI Health Link, a new health care option for Michigan residents who are enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, as state officials indicate this will be an expanded program in the future to deal with the state’s aging population base.

“It is expected there will be new programs and efforts to meet the needs of this demographic,” said Siggett. “For example, more people want to stay in their homes as they grow older and Medicare is taking steps to address that in terms of services provided.”

Kari Sederburg, senior program officer, Michigan Health Endowment Fund, said people – both young and old – need to realize the importance of advocacy both programmatically and legislatively as it relates to the older generation.

“Right now, of the $160 million spent here on health care…only 3 percent of that is currently designated for the elderly. That’s only 4.8 percent of the total dollars. That has to change," Sederburg said.

Many categories of senior support services will need to be addressed, Sederburg said. “Behavioral health, nutritional health, healthy aging, senior care services, insurance, transportation services…all come into play.”

Sederburg shared news of a new grant (Healthy Aging) program by the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, which will seek to aid in such things as determining how to fund important components such as integration of services and education.

“We received about 60-70 proposals and we will announce the grant recipients in November,” she said.

The panel also provided the results of research conducted by the Bipartisan Policy Center that included such information as:

  • 70 percent of adults over 65 will need long-term services and supports at some point in their lifetimes
  • Personal savings will fall short of the dollars needed to provide them adequate senior health care
  • Housing stock designed for older adults is inadequate

The speakers also agreed that steps needed to move the aging issues and concerns forward in Michigan and throughout the U.S. include:

  • Integrating health care and supportive services with housing
  • Making homes and communities age-friendly
  • Building affordable and suitable housing for seniors
  • Engaging both state and federal lawmakers into passing pro-aging legislation
  • Protecting and expand Medicare and Medicaid coverage
  • Supporting research into the future needs and requirements of the elderly

For more information on aging and related issues, check out the National Institute on Aging.


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