Outfitting Leelanau for its aging population

TRAVERSE CITY — Leelanau County is maturing.

U.S. Census figures show 32.1 percent of the county’s residents were 60 or older in 2010. The number grew to an estimated 37.7 percent by 2014. The proportion of residents aged 70-74 grew by nearly 26 percent during those years.

The Leelanau County League of Women Voters is hosting a forum to highlight the county’s aging population.

“We wanted to say, ‘as long as you’re going to have this growing population of seniors, what should we be trying to do in the county to make life for that group as good as it can be?'” said Phillip Mikesell, chair of the league’s age-friendly Leelanau committee.

The league’s forum on age-friendly communities is scheduled to take place at noon on May 4 at the Leelanau County Government Center in Suttons Bay. A panel will address issues facing an aging population such as housing, transportation, health care and community.

Taking steps to make Leelanau County life easier for senior citizens could make the county eligible for designations such as the AARP’s Age-Friendly Community or the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ Communities for a Lifetime, said April Missias, director of Leelanau County Senior Services.

Missias will speak at the May 4 panel.

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“I’m hoping the conversations will continue and we’ll begin to really explore how we can support seniors in Leelanau County (who are) continuing to age well and thrive, living life on their terms,” she said.

The undeveloped vistas that draw many people to Leelanau County also contribute to its drawbacks, said Bob Schlueter, Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Michigan executive director. Providing services such as public transportation is easier in urban areas.

Owning lots of property can be a challenge for area seniors, too. Schlueter said many struggle to pay property taxes on fixed incomes.

“We have the poor of the poor and the rich of the rich in northwest Michigan, and we have a lot of seniors that are property rich, but cashflow poor,” Schlueter said.

Many seniors just don’t know where to go for help. Schlueter said networks of nonprofits, government agencies, volunteers and neighbors can fill information gaps and help seniors navigate social services programs.

Listening to a community is the best way to help it thrive, he said.

“Finding out what people need, rather than just assuming they need this,” Schlueter said. “I think it’s very important to take the temperature of your community on a fairly regular basis.”

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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