Pat Melanson, left, and Dianne Cameron are regular participants of the Derry Recreation Department's Friday morning intermediate line dancing classes, one of the town's many offerings for local senior citizens. (APRIL GUILMET PHOTO)
Thirteen years ago, when Senior Services Director Patti Drelick began her career with the town of Salem, Drelick recalled that her biggest challenge was convincing an 80-year-old to come and check out one of her programs.
Things have certainly changed. Salem’s Ingram Senior Center now has more than 2,600 registered members; the center was recently forced to place a 400-person cap on memberships for out-of-town seniors.
Salem’s senior center membership increased by nearly 50 percent last year and shows no signs of slowing down.
“The aging are staying healthier for longer,” Drelick said. “The ripple effect is that we’re all feeling the strain.”
According to two U.S. Census Bureau reports released this month, the nation’s 65-and-older population is expected to reach 83.7 million by 2050, which is double 2012’s level of 43.1 million.
Jennifer Ortman, chief of the Census Bureau’s Population Projections branch, said that by 2030, an overall 20 percent of the United States’ population will be aged 65 or older.
“Changes in the age structure of the U.S. population will have implications for health care services and providers, national and local policymakers, and businesses seeking to anticipate the influence that this population may have on their services, family structure and the American landscape,” Ortman said.
New Hampshire is ranked fourth in the nation in terms of its senior citizen population. In 2010, there were 191,403 residents 65 or older living in the Granite State, according to statistics provided by the NH Center for Public Policy Studies.
That number is estimated to increase by 28 percent next year, as more and more citizens celebrate a milestone birthday. By 2030, New Hampshire will have an estimated 437,194 senior citizens.
At Community Caregivers of Greater Derry, a nonprofit that matches volunteers with home-bound disabled and elderly residents in seven southern New Hampshire communities, demand for services continues to grow.
Cindee Tanuma, the organization’s executive director, said the Caregivers “is always at capacity” and “the need is great.”
“Most of our clients make slightly too much to be eligible for any service and too little to afford any services out of pocket,” said Tanuma, who noted the organization currently provides more than 200 clients with transportation, friendly visits, shopping assistance and help with household duties.
“We have a long waiting list for transportation services,” she added. “But we’re usually able to help about eight to 10 new people each month.”
Pelham Senior Center Director Sara Landry said she’s noticed an increased demand in programs for “younger” seniors in their late 60s, a population that accounts for a large portion of new memberships.
“We’ve been working to add programs that appeal to those 65-ers, such as senior fitness, tai chi, senior dancing programs and trips,” Landry said. “I’ve also found that many of our younger seniors are interested in volunteering or working.”
Windham Senior Center program director Barbara Coish said her town’s aging population also appears to be increasing.
“Perhaps it’s the many 55-plus housing units that attract new residents to our town,” Coish said. “The town is attractive to seniors because of this housing and the many available activities in services.”
Responding to growing demand, the Cooperative Alliance for Regional Transportation (CART), a public transit-service geared toward senior citizens and disabled person in southern New Hampshire, added a Hampstead shuttle last month. CART matches town contributions with federal transportation funds and has provided over 100,000 rides since its inception in 2006.
“This is going to be a very convenient and much-needed service for seniors and others in the community who are in need of safe and reliable transportation to medical appointments and other needs,” CART Executive Director Annette Stoller said.
Susan Antkowiak, vice president of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Massachusetts and New Hampshire chapter in Bedford, said an estimated 22,000 Granite State citizens currently suffer from the disease.
“If nothing changes, we expect that number to grow to 32,000 by the year 2025 — a 45 percent increase,” Antkowiak said on Friday. “Certainly, age isn’t the only risk factor (for Alzheimer’s), but it’s the biggest one.”
The nonprofit organization is working closely with a new committee of legislators, patients, families and health care providers to address current and anticipated needs and shortfalls as part of the NH State Plan for Alzheimer’s Disease & Other Related Dementias.
The House and Senate recently cleared legislation outlining the plan; Gov. Maggie Hassan is expected to sign the bill into law within the next month.
“It’s an exciting development for us,” Antkowiak said. “We’re looking at a long-term, public health crisis and this is one way we’ll be able to examine different ways of delivering programs and services.”