The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday May 28th

Chapel Hill adjusts to aging population

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The Robert and Pearl Seymour Center is now one of two senior centers in Orange County. It offers a wide array of services for seniors and caregivers ranging from health care resources to technology classes, attracting more than 400 visitors everyday.

Seymour said he has been involved with seniors since his retirement in 1988, when he was asked by the Department on Aging to serve on an advisory committee. The first thing he did was visit the Chapel Hill senior center, which was then located in an abandoned school in a room not much bigger than an average classroom.

“The county commissioners were a little bit skeptical at first because there are many seniors who pride themselves on being independent and not having many needs,” Seymour said. “But the fact is that aging affects everybody and this place seeks to be aware of that spectrum of needs and tries to meet them.”

The high volume of visitors is indicative of a transformation occurring in Orange County and across the United States. The country’s population is aging, creating an economic strain in many communities, said Janice Tyler , director of Orange County’s Department on Aging.

“At some point down the road, we’re going to have to look at the allocation of resources because there are so many more older adults in the county,” Tyler said. “We’ve reached the point where we have more older adults than we have kids in school. That’s probably going to have some budget implications.”

The number of adults aged 65 or older is estimated to increase 31 percent from 2012 to 2017, according to the Orange County Master Aging Plan .

The county will pay close attention to its residents’ transit needs going forward, Tyler said. More money will be needed to ensure seniors have easy access to things like grocery stores and health care facilities, especially in rural areas.

“For seniors, it’s great to have a walkable community,” Tyler said. “For folks that are in Chapel Hill, that can be more of a reality than for folks living out in rural Orange County. We’ve got to think about everybody.”

The county has entertained the idea of allocating fund s from the developing Orange County half-cent transportation tax to older adult services or to modify rider fees for public transportation services.

Despite some of the budget concerns, seniors in Orange County may also bring economic benefits to the area.

Steve Brantley , the Orange County economic development director, said he thinks most retirees who move to the county are educated and financially independent.

“We have high-end retirement homes in Orange County — the Cedars in Meadowmont and Carol Woods ,” Brantley said. “They’re very prestigious retirement homes. It takes money to move into them.”

Retirees also bring a wealth of knowledge and experience that can benefit the county, he said. Many volunteer to serve on advisory boards or for organizations like SCORE , a group of retired business professionals who serve as mentors to start-up businesses in the community.

Brantley said he also thinks the increased demand for specialized levels of medical care might help the county economically because it encourages an increase in doctors’ offices.

“The existing medical community is diversified by having a strong market demand for the geriatric health care needs,” he said. “I would think that the people who come here can afford to retire here and, while they may need medical care, they most likely are able to afford it themselves and are not in need of the county’s services.”

But many county services are already in place for those who do need them, thanks to advocates like Seymour.

Seymour said he has worked to develop the network of resources available to seniors today.

“One of the things that pleases me most about the center is that it attracts a wide diversity of seniors — ethnic groups, economic groups,” he said. “There’s everything from bingo to university lectures.”

city@dailytarheel.com



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