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Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senator Susan Collins, the Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, held a hearing titled “Aging with Community: Building Connections that Last a Lifetime” to examine age-friendly initiatives in Maine and across the country. At Senator Collins’ invitation, Meg Callaway, the project director of the Piscataquis Thriving in Place Collaborative at the Charlotte White Center in Dover-Foxcroft, testified.
“Isolation and loneliness can have serious, even deadly, consequences for the health and well-being of our nation’s seniors. Our hearing looked at some of the solutions that will help build a strong sense of community, therefore leading to healthier, happier lives for older Americans,” said Senator Collins. “Initiatives to create age-friendly communities have grown organically across the country in response to local needs, and I am proud that dozens of towns across Maine are leading the way.”
During the hearing, Ms. Callaway spoke about some of the projects her organization leads that serve the residents of Piscataquis County, which is one of Maine’s most rural counties and has the second-oldest population. She noted that renovations are currently underway of an historic building that will house a senior center for independent older adults and an adult day services program for seniors needing greater support. Senator Collins asked Ms. Callaway to elaborate on her vision for the new center.
“The one most critical resource for caregivers is respite. A few hours to take care of one’s own needs with all the burden of care that families are carrying is absolutely critical,” said Ms. Callaway. “What we are hoping to provide at the adult day services center is full medical care…that will free the caregivers up to participate in some of the programming through the senior center for independent adults.”
“That sounds just wonderful. What a great gift to the community that would be on so many fronts,” remarked Senator Collins. “I’ve seen senior centers in communities in Maine make such a difference in getting people out of their homes to socialize and enjoy one another’s company. Your concept of combining [a senior center for independent older adults and an adult day services program] is really innovative and needed.”
While seniors prefer to age at home, aging in place poses a number of challenges like home maintenance, mobility and transportation, and access to programs and services. The number of Americans age 65 and older is projected to double by 2060, and improvements to infrastructure and opportunities for our aging population will be needed to respond to this unprecedented demographic shift.
Maine actually leads the nation in developing age-friendly communities. Of the 163 communities in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities nationwide, 35 are in Maine.
In addition to Ms. Callaway, the committee heard from three other program directors, who described initiatives in both rural and urban settings that focus on transportation, housing, social engagement, technology, outdoor space and buildings, as well as informational campaigns and cultural efforts to create a positive experience for our aging population and individuals with disabilities.
Yesterday's hearing was the second in a two-part series shining a light on the growing phenomenon of loneliness affecting older Americans. The first hearing in this series explored the mental, physical, and emotional consequences of social isolation.
Witnesses for the hearing included:
Click HERE to read their testimonies.