As individuals we tend to measure the passage of time by years. “Remember in 1997 when…” we reminisce with a friend or a colleague. As a nation and a society, however, we tend to look back on the past in terms of decades and to characterize those ten year chunks of times with a single title, like the “Roaring Twenties,” for example, or to describe them by recalling one monumental event or economic trend or social phenomenon. You know, like the “Great Depression” or “the decade of protest” as historians refer to the 1960s. At the beginning of a new decade, like the one on which we are now embarking, it is impossible to know how history will portray it, what particular event or social trend will emerge as the most memorable or distinct.
But here is what we do know: in the 2020s in America, the older population is going to grow older and larger. The number of individuals becoming “seniors” each year is going to continue increasing. Along with that, their needs for social services (not to mention medical ones) and assistance with navigating the activities and performing those tasks that only a few years before were routine is going to increase as well. In 2016 the 65+ population – that’s right, 65+ not 60+, so the number needs adjusting upwards – represented around 20 percent of the overall population in half of the states. And it has already edged up to almost a quarter of the population in more than a third of the states.
Here is more of what we already know: in 2009 in America the 60+ population numbered 52.5 million. By 2017, that figure had grown to 77 million.
Here is what we don’t: just how many folks in that cohort are going to be in need of the services that senior nutrition programs provide within the next ten years. Yes, that is right: we said need services. We are talking about people, not just numbers but individuals, who are going to need services.
As resources fail to keep up with the growth –- as they most likely will — senior nutrition programs must focus more intently on two things. The first is obvious and that is that they must devote more attention and energy to targeting services to those in greatest need first. Second is learning how to best manage the limited resources that are available to serve the “more” who will rely on those services for their very health and well-being.
We at NFESH understand that talking about targeting of services and implementing effective plans to do so are very different things. Unlike the growth of the vulnerable aging population, targeting does not come naturally. But it can be learned and practiced. And, as each of us knows from our personal lives, stretching resources requires attention, commitment and knowledge as well .
For several years now, NFESH has been working with States and nutrition programs to do both. As we have worked, we have learned. And as we have worked we have refined our skills and developed new means and methods of teaching others. We are eager to share our knowledge and poised to do so. Keep an eye on this space where we will roll out more details…and more opportunities to assist more folks who were born in “the decade of protest” and earlier.
We don’t know what the name of this decade will finally come to be, but we do know that we can do a great deal to ensure that those seniors who need our help will call it good.