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Raising the Profile of Older Adult Needs in Orange County

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Debbie Rose, director of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Successful Aging and a professor of kinesiology, is on a mission to raise the profile of older adults needs in Orange County.

There are currently more than 431,000 adults ages 65 or older who live in Orange County — and that population is expected to nearly double by 2040 — according to a new report released by the Orange County Healthy Aging Initiative. The initiative is co-chaired by Rose and Helene Calvet, deputy county health officer.

In this article, Rose discusses key findings of the Orange County Older Adult Profile, 2016, which also indicates that the older adult population is becoming more racially and ethnically diverse. Detailed information on more than 70 health and well-being indicators can be found on the Orange County Older Adult Dashboard.

What is the significance of this report?

Over the past decade there have been small, specific pockets of information that have been published, but no comprehensive report of this scale to paint a picture of what our older population looks like in Orange County and what it’s going to look like by 2040-50.

The report serves many purposes: It’s a platform for leveraging public and private funding to address older adult issues, it’s a report card for service agencies to understand where they’re doing well and areas for improvement, it’s a way to promote advocacy at a grassroots level, it’s an educational tool for students and it’s going to help inform the forthcoming Orange County strategic plan.

What are some key findings from the report?

The most positive thing that came out of this profile is that older adults in Orange County are doing quite well relative to other counties, the state and the nation. In general, their health is good in terms of chronic disease, and we’re seeing a decrease in conditions like heart disease and cancer.

But there still are some areas of great concern to us, such as:

  • Alzheimer’s disease is now the No. 3 three cause of mortality in Orange County among older adults.
  • Elder abuse is a huge issue, with more than 1,500 confirmed cases in 2014 — a 56 percent increase from 2005.
  • There is growing concern over the lack of affordable housing, with many older adults spending as much as 30 percent of their total income on housing.
  • A growing number of older adult couples (21.9 percent) and singles (44.2 percent) do not have enough income to pay for even the basic necessities, such as food and transportation.
  • While most older adults in Orange County have health insurance, the majority are limited to public health insurance.
  • We don’t have enough caregivers, and resources for caregivers, to address the needs of older adults.
  • The number of licensed geriatricians is less than 25 percent of what’s needed for the number of older adults we have in Orange County.

What are some ways CSUF is preparing students to work with the older adult population?

CSUF’s Center for Successful Aging serves as a learning laboratory for students across a variety of disciplines to work with older adults, dispel myths they have about the aging process and develop their communication skills.

Within the Department of Kinesiology, we’re one of the few universities in the country that has a gerokinesiology concentration devoted to preparing students to work with older adults in physical activity and rehabilitation settings. I feel positive that we’re preparing students to really understand the older adult population and provide outstanding care and wellness programs.