Californians are aging, said Debbie Toth, chief executive officer of Choice in Aging of Pleasant Hill.
Each week, 7,000 residents turn 65, she said – 365,000 every year. And by 2030, 20 percent of the state’s population will be that age or older.
And the state’s fastest growing population are those 85 and older, she said.
In the next 40 years, Contra Costa County’s population between 65 and 74 will grow by 125 percent, and those 75 to 84 will grow by 198 percent. More importantly, those 85 and older will grow by 299 percent, she said.
“Why is that important?” she asked. Because half of those 85 and older will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, and the cost of treating the elderly can be five times that of other populations.
“We’re unable to address existing needs,” she added.
Her organization, Choice in Aging, was established in 1949 as Rehabilitation Services of Northern California, a nonprofit public benefit corporation with centers in Contra Costa County that serve more than 600 people annually.
It offers adult day health care services for the elderly, those who are frail and those dealing with dementia and Alzheimer’s, which has been called the most expensive disease in the country, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Licensed by the California Department of Public Health and certified by the California Department of Aging, Choice in Aging helps the elderly remain in their homes while getting the care they need. Its nearby centers are the Mount Diablo Center in Pleasant Hill, where the elderly and frail can receive therapy to maintain an optimal level of physical and mental functions, and its adult day care at the Bedford Center in Antioch.
Its Multipurpose Senior Services Program, for those receiving Medi-Cal, for those who want to live independently, and California Community Transitions, which help adults on Medi-Cal who are in skilled nursing homes return to their communities.
Toth and Choice in Aging has been working with Contra Costa County to help gear for the growing aging population, looking at access to health care, transportation access and other needs.
At one time, the county had a policy paper on county strategies that incorporated nothing that specifically addressed the elderly, Toth said. “That was an eye-opening experience,” she said.
With the help of Martinez Vice Mayor Lara DeLaney, Toth was able to reach county officials and explain the importance in factoring the aging population into the county’s new and upcoming policies.
The Senior Aging Policy Platform for Contra Costa County is a look at demographic trends, the living environment for older residents, health conditions and access to care, with endeavors to improve service quality, leading to an improved quality of life for the elderly.
The county – and its cities – need to look at their public spaces and available transportation to make sure they are “age friendly,” Toth said, and communities need to make sure they, too, are welcoming to older residents.
She is a proponent of 8 80 Cities, founded by Gil Penalosa, who said, “We need to stop building cities as though everyone is 30 years old and athletic.”
That organization’s mission is to get cities to become places where residents who are 8 and those who are 80 feel comfortable.
“If you create a city and 8 year olds and 80 year olds can be happy, anyone can thrive,” she said.
She has invited two members of the Martinez City Council to attend a “learning laboratory” workshop May 30 that will examine barriers to the elderly and how city governments can make their municipalities places that can better accommodate older residents.
“I’m going to be part of the ’65 Class’ in two weeks, Mayor Rob Schroder told Toth when she spoke Wednesday to the Council and offered her invitation to the workshop.
He also has parents in their 90s who want to stay in their home, although the building presents challenges with its two stories and entrance steps.
Councilmember Mark Ross recognized Martinez has issues it needs to address if its older residents are going to be able to stay here. Councilmember Debbie McKillop praised Toth for her passion.
And DeLaney encouraged the Council to examine the city’s revision of its General Plan, to make sure it incorporates changes that would benefit the elderly who want to keep living in their homes.