WILLIAMSBURG — The Williamsburg Health Foundation (WHF) held a presentation with community leaders to share the 2021 research results on the aging population in the Greater Williamsburg area.
The research, entitled: “Older Adults: Where We Are and Where We’re Going,” presented an overview of various challenges that adults ages 60 or greater may experience as the percentage of the older population expands in the area.
“So today is the summary of a longer report that includes data and analysis on demographics, health status, aging in place support, and the qualitative research that was informed by interviews by many of you,” the author of the research, Paulette Parker, said at the beginning of her presentation.
The demographic data of the research was based on the 2019 census.
According to Parker’s presentation, by 2030 the older adult population (ages 60+) of the Greater Williamsburg area will be about 33 percent of the total population.
In the research, Greater Williamsburg is defined as James City County, the City of Williamsburg, and York County.
“The population of Greater Williamsburg right now, with the three localities, is about 159,000 and the older adults make up right now about 29 percent of our population,” said Parker. “For Virginia, that proportion is 22 percent, and the big national demographic headline is that by 2034 people age 65 and up in the U.S. will outnumber people under the age of 18 for the first time in U.S. history.”
A portion of the research was a health profile that examined the health status of older adults compared to the population at-large.
The health profile also took into account the disease prevalence rates, physical disability, mental health, and unhealthy behaviors.
According to WHF’s slideshow used in the presentation, “Among the total U.S. population, 70 percent of deaths are caused by factors relating to chronic diseases, which are responsible for more than 1.7 million deaths each year.”
The same slide also reads, “90 percent of the nation’s annual healthcare expenditures are to address chronic physical or mental health conditions.”
“Older adults are almost three times as likely to suffer from diabetes as their younger counterparts, and for high blood pressure and high cholesterol, they are more than twice as likely. Obesity rates are about the same,” Parker said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also significantly and disproportionately affected older adults, who are particularly vulnerable to extreme cases of, and death from COVID-19.
According to the presentation, “85 percent of COVID[-19] deaths, 56 percent of hospitalizations, and 16 percent of cases in Virginia were older adults (age 60+).”
“So we know that the best strategy for addressing health challenges is promoting wellness, and doing prevention,” Parker said.
Also according to the presentation, “National survey data shows that 90 percent of older adults want to ‘age in place.’ The CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] defines aging in place as ‘the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level.'”
The presentation also covered the effects of living alone on mental illnesses.
“An abundance of research shows that living alone as an older adult is a marker for numerous risk factors including of course social isolation, visible problems, depression, and even decreased life expectancy,” said Parker. “So if we tally up these households we say that over 20 percent of all of our older adults in Greater Williamsburg live alone and they make up over 10 percent of all of our households.”
According to Parker, socialization can prevent or slow the progression of dementia.
In addition to social isolation, housing and transportation were also additional areas of concern for older adults brought to light by the research.
“So, in the literature and in our research, including the key informants, we see an emphasis on how to support autonomy and dignity,” said Parker. “We know that in age-friendly communities, one that supports older adults, adding choices and remaining engaged but still being as independent as possible. As you know, the purposed of this report is to inform and facilitate community dialogue among providers of services and decision-makers, and to serve as a catalyst for collaborative approaches.”
According to the report’s premise, “‘an age-friendly community allows people of all ages to participate in activities that keep the community healthy.’ In an age-friendly community, ‘older persons can easily stay connected with others and remain independent. An age-friendly community also looks out for those who need support to age successfully.'”
The full 78-page research report can be found on WHF’s website.