Is Atlanta ready for graying boomers?


Is Atlanta ready for graying boomers?


Pfizer conducted a poll on attitudes toward aging across four cities, Atlanta, Boston, Kansas City and Seattle. The poll showed some satisfaction with getting older, but it also showed concerns about whether the communities are ready for an aging population. Here are some of the findings:

Believe they will live a long life

  • Atlanta 92%
  • Others 87%

Believe people who work past retirement stay healthier

  • Atlanta 73%
  • Others 78%

Would consider surgery to improve appearance

  • Atlanta 30%
  • others 25%

Are proud of getting older in general

  • Atlanta 58%
  • Others 43%

Believe the community is “not prepared at all” to offer older people employment options

  • Atlanta 45%
  • Others 47%

Atlantans by age group believe the community is “not prepared at all” to offer older people transportation

  • 18-32 26%
  • 33-48 27%
  • 49-67 46%
  • 68+ 30%

Top fears in relation to work. Including fear of stopping work before you are ready

  • Atlanta 46%
  • Others 34%

Fear of not getting another job if you lose yours

  • Atlanta 46%
  • Others 61%

Gloria Smith is an active senior physically fit.

But the 63-year-old worries whether Atlanta is the best place to age.

“I feel like I’m getting to the age where I really don’t want to continue driving,” said Smith, a retired psychiatric social worker who is raising her two grandchildren. “Transportation is one of my concerns. I’ve read about some cities that have everything you need right there. The drugstore. The grocery store. I don’t think Atlanta is that way.”

Her concerns are common among seniors here and across the country.

According to a new survey commissioned by Pfizer Inc. and Generations United, an intergenerational advocacy organization, more than nine out of 10 people who live in the Atlanta area believe they will live a long life, but less than one-third of metro Atlantans feel their community is prepared to support an aging population.

And while more than two-thirds of residents believe seniors’ quality of life is better now than in the past, there is an overall feeling of unpreparedness concerning Atlanta-area infrastructure, the survey found.

That feeling is true even across generations, said Donna Butts, the executive director of Generations United, a national nonprofit think tank that focuses on intergenerational programs and a co-sponsor with Pfizer of the “Get Old Campaign.”

With more than 10,000 people expected to turn 65 every day through 2030, Butts said that concerns reflected in the survey centered on inadequate transportation, housing and health care for older people.

The 2013 Get Old survey, conducted between March 25 and April 12, included 300 respondents from across four groups: Millennials, Gen-Xers, boomers and the Greatest Generation.

“We were curious about how Americans view their communities and hope to use the survey to start a conversation about the importance of preparing for an aging society,” Butts said.

The survey, said Deborah Whitley, an associate professor in Georgia State University’s School of Social Work, “is very telling.”

How does society view the elderly? What will happen as that group gets larger, particularly as more baby boomers grow older?

Whitley is among the boomers who are moving into that category. “Will the community still engage me as an active individual? There are some concerns and some fears, and hopefully, this survey will generate conversations between universities, foundations, and the public and private sector,” she said. “How do we engage people who are elderly so that we can still use them as resources?”

Many seniors and soon-to-be seniors are healthier and stronger, and some are more financially stable than previous generations.

“So we’re not ready for the nursing home,” Whitley said.

But like Smith, Cheryl Orlansky, 57, and Alan Thornton, 61, aren’t so sure how they will fare and worry that safety nets, such as Social Security and Medicare, won’t be there when they need them.

“This isn’t a handout,” said Thornton, a Decatur father and business owner. “This is money we have put into the system over our working lives, and the thought that that income source might not be available when I can no longer work is frightening.”

Said Orlansky: “I believe the problem is a cultural one. Look at other populations that revere their elderly like the Okinawans. They live to be a very old age possibly in part due to their diet, their lifestyle and possibly due to their position in the community. Here we have grown up in mobile communities and no longer may live near our extended families.

“Maybe the answer is to live in communal settings with a varied age group. That way every person would make their own contribution and younger generations could learn to revere the wisdom of the elderly.”

Butts said that communities need to be thinking proactively to become good communities in which to grow up and grow old.

“Each generation needs to be looked at as a resource and a contributor to community life because they want to be. It’s important at every age that we have a sense of purpose and connections to other human beings of all ages,” she said. “One of the things we known from intergenerational programming is that older adults who connect with younger generations take better care of themselves, but when you put a bunch of older adults together the conversation centers on three p’s: pain, pills and passing.”

Metro Atlanta residents can join the conversation and find information about healthy aging by logging on to a website — — that Pfizer developed. Residents can also check out a Healthy Aging Checklist that provides health tips on everything from skin care to preventive care for men and women from their 20s to their 60s, Butts said.

How communities respond to the graying of the metro area is a priority of the Atlanta Regional Commission.

Dennis Burnette, the president and CEO of Cherokee Bank and an ARC board member, said the commission identified the lack of community preparedness as a critical issue in 2007 when it first launched its Lifelong Communities Initiative.

“The Atlanta area has a strong support network for the growing older adult population — robust services that are modernizing to meet the needs of the 21st century adult,” he said. “But we need more. There are too many wait lists, too few resources, and the service system must get to scale quickly to meet the impending demand.”

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