If you’re looking for silver linings, one advantage of being the state with the country’s oldest median age is that it puts Maine at the leading edge in tackling issues that affect the elderly.

Jessica Maurer sees that on a regular basis as executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging. She’s a tireless advocate for older Mainers and is constantly pushing for improvements in how the elderly are housed, get around, and deal with daily challenges, even helping to run a program to get warm coats to older Mainers in the winter.

Maurer got her first taste of working on policy issues while in the Maine Attorney General’s Office. She said she saw older Mainers being taken advantage of and decided to continue trying to help after leaving her state job.

“I wanted to create social change,” she said. “I want to create a new vision of how we live together.”

American society changed dramatically in the 20th century, and how the elderly live is one of the areas that has changed most dramatically, she said.

People are living longer and want to stay in their homes, but need help staying mobile, she said. But that means things like home maintenance, making weekly shopping trips when they are no longer able to drive, and getting to appointments often become issues for elderly Mainers. In many cases, adult children have moved away, eliminating a natural support system.

“Our current systems are failing,” Maurer said. But there are ways to get those systems back on track, she said, such as the $15 million senior housing bond that voters passed on Election Day, which will be used to build modern, energy-efficient homes for older Mainers.

There’s an array of other issues that Maurer said also needs attention, from a shrinking labor pool of workers providing direct care for seniors, to transportation systems that don’t reach rural areas of the state.

Still, Maurer remains positive and keeps looking for solutions.

“She’s a real dynamo,” said Dave Brown, 74, who works with Maurer on a program to help the elderly stay in their homes in Harpswell, where Maurer lives.

Brown said Maurer has an ability to work on big, overarching statewide issues, as well as smaller programs that may reach fewer people, but make a real difference in how they live. Maurer remains optimistic that older Mainers will get the help they need as they age.

“You can get overwhelmed by the whole, but we’re making progress every day,” she said. “I am unbelievably optimistic. I’m inspired by the communities that are tackling these issues.”

– Edward D. Murphy

Read all of our profiles of Mainers to be thankful for in 2015.