Alaska is Aging: Our Elders Will Need our Help

Alaska has always enjoyed a youthful population. It’s partly our young military but beyond even that, our state has always attracted laborers and adventurers and outdoor enthusiasts who tend to be starting out in life–in their twenties and thirties.

But along with the rest of the country, even Alaska is getting older. We know how radically the aging baby boomers are affecting the national demographics but in a way they’re affecting us even more. The growth in percentages of our senior population is now and is expected to be almost twice as rapid as for the country as a whole. According to projections we’ll stay one of the youngest states but there is a trend. More Alaskans are aging and more of them are staying put. Indeed our state government has introduced programs that assist an older population and encourage it to retire in state. And it’s working. In 2006 only 6.7 of us were 65 and older. By 2026 that figure is projected to more then doubled to over 14 %.

Which is fine. Alaska has a rich tradition, passed down by our natives, of cherishing and honoring elders. Our children’s lives will be enriched by the loving concern of their grandparents and beyond just the family, our increasing maturity will encourage us as all to grow in foresight and wisdom. That being said however, a growing elderly population will is certain introduce problems that our communities may not be fully prepared to handle.

We at Midnight Sun assume that Alaska’s retirees will be a robust and independent group. These are characteristics that our state attracts and encourages; it’s in the air we breath and it will enliven our seniors. But no matter how rugged and proud-spirited, our aging population is going to need help. We want very much to honor their need for independence and to avoid institutionalization. But if the elderly are to be on their own, they are going to need outside help from the rest of us and here’s where we foresee problems.

The percentage of working-age Alaskans is not projected to grow anywhere near as quickly as the over 65’ers. That proportion is expected to decrease from 65% now to just over 53% by 2030. That means there will be fewer Alaskans able to step in and offer the kinds of volunteer services that their senior neighbors and family members are going to need.

In past blogs we’ve discussed the increasing incidence of caregiver’s stress syndrome. It’s defined as a debilitating condition brought on by unrelieved, constant caring for a person with a chronic illness or dementia. We’ve discussed the dire affects the syndrome can have on the overburdened caregiver. Home health care is our business, it’s been our experience that Alaskans with elderly family members are by no means immune. Indeed the Alaskan spirit of independence can even aggregate the problem. Our state has a tradition of taking care of its own—Its own problems within our its family. And Alaskans tend also to assume that they’re strong enough to cope. They’re reluctant to ask for help. They’re afraid it means admitting defeat.

But the growth of our elderly population means there will be an increasing incidence of physically frailty and an increasing growth in the incidence of dementia and Alzheimer’s. And there will be times when Alaskans will have to start admitting that the needs of senior family members are too hard to deal with alone. Too hard on them and too hard on their families. But there is help available. Services like Midnight Sun Home Health Care are ready to step in.

So in the end, if demographics tell us anything, they tell us that increasingly Alaskans will be rewarded with the warmth and wisdom of our elders. But the numbers also tell us that that warmth and wisdom will sometimes be accompanied by increasing levels of stress. We encourage families to recognize this and to start planning for it now.

And we remind everyone that sometimes, even Alaskans need help.

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