Growing old can be a solitary experience. But in Maine, it is also something we are doing together.
We are not only the state with the highest median age in the nation (43.5), but after Florida, Maine also has the second highest proportion of people age 65 and older. Maine has the highest percentage of baby boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, and they are reaching 65 — what used to be known as “retirement age” — at the rate of 18,250 a year.
There is no avoiding it: We are old and getting older, and the state won’t be prepared to accommodate a growing population of seniors who need help with housing, health care, transportation and protection from abuse unless we take some bold steps now.
This is the story that the staff of the Maine Sunday Telegram set out to tell in “The challenge of our age,” a series of stories that begins Sunday and will continue throughout the year.
This isn’t just a story about numbers, however.
In this first installment, readers meet Mary Sweet, 81, of Camden, who struggles to get by on Social Security; Irving Faunce of Wilton, a nursing home operator whose own aged mother was forced to move six times in her last decade; and Stanley Main, 82, of South Portland, who was swindled by an unscrupulous contractor.
Each of these Mainers have a different part of the story to tell, but they are not the only ones. This is something that we are all experiencing, either as we get older or as we watch our parents, grandparents and neighbors age.
We all have an interest in the kind of economy we will live with in the future and the kind of services that will be available to those in need.
So in addition to telling these stories, we want to give readers an opportunity to tell their own stories. To make that possible, the series will be hosted on a Facebook page, where readers can ask questions, make comments and find resources, as well as read the stories.
We also plan to use the opinion pages as a forum for people to engage each other in conversations about the effects on Maine of its aging population and what can be done about it.
We plan to have a special letters package next week of reader responses to the first group of stories. In the weeks ahead, we plan to solicit commentary from experts in economics, gerontology, health care finance, community planning and other areas who can respond to the questions the stories raise.
But they’re not the only experts. When it comes to aging, nearly all of us have relevant firsthand knowledge. Over the next few months, we will all have an opportunity to share our expertise and hopefully have an opportunity to learn from each other.