Senior care professionals from the Granite Falls area participated in a public conversation aimed at addressing new challenges facing the baby boomer population (people born between 1946 and 1964). The event was sponsored by the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MRAAA) and is part of a series of public conversations held throughout the region.

The assembled professionals spent the morning discussing how changing demographic factors will impact the baby boomer generation after they retire, and what our region is doing to prepare for that eventuality. The conversation is part of MN2030 Looking Forward, an initiative started back in 2000 by the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) Aging and Adult Services Division.

According to the MN DHS website, MN2030 will help state legislators craft new legislation to better address the needs of our aging population. “With critical input from external stakeholders,” the website says, “MN2030 Looking Forward will provide information to the public, the aging network, community organizations, other state agencies, [and] elected officials.” These smaller community conversations are critically important in helping state officials “assess the current landscape and prioritize concrete proposals to positively support the life span of all Minnesotans.”

Participants at Wednesday’s meeting kicked-off the conversation by envisioning ideal services and resources they would need as an 85-year-old living in 2030. Speakers highlighted a wide variety of different needs. Topics such as better access to transportation, improved home health technology (like video check-ins), and handicap friendly housing were major themes throughout the conversation.

The role of government funding was another important point raised by several participants. Renville County Human Services Director Jerry Brustuen stressed that just because there are new services and technologies doesn’t mean they will be readily available and accessible to seniors. Living at Home /Block Nursing Program Director Mary Ims agreed, adding that there is a similar problem with accessing affordable respite for caregivers.

The group also discussed how to best meet the housing needs of seniors in the coming years. MRAAA Program Developer Jaime Enger-Lanner observed that for many seniors living in rural areas, there was a strong desire to remain in their homes. She said that this can make it difficult sometimes for them to access other resources. The group also expressed concern for the lack of adult day care available for senior residents with dementia and other neurodegenerative diseases.

Toward the end of the conversation, the group discussed changes they hope lawmakers will enact. Besides obvious recommendations like better funding for human services, the group also stressed the need for greater cooperation and information sharing between the various city, county, and private sector senior services entities. “We need to work together as a region, and not just as individual cities,” said one participant. The group also debated how to get new volunteers involved, which they believe is a critical to keeping seniors engaged in their communities.

The regional conversations are currently winding down, with only two more planned for Moorhead and Dawson later this month. The MNRAAA will organize the collected information and then send it to the state legislature, where it will help inform future legislation.

Residents who missed the meeting, but who still want to share their thoughts on improving senior services, are encouraged to fill out an online survey at http://surveys.dhs.state.mn.us/snapwebhost/s.asp?k=149581989669.