Montana is counted among the fastest growing states for an aging population. In a nod to the state’s aging demographic the 46th annual Governors Conference on Aging looked at issues specifically effecting seniors including transportation, health, and safety. The two-day event took place in Kalispell and Bozeman this week.
It also offers an opportunity to recognize Montana’s centenarians.
In Kalispell among those recognized by Governor Steve Bullock was 100-year-old Margaret Pontius of Bigfork who started the first library in the town, as well as the senior center, and 101-year-old Forrest Sanford Thompson who worked as a cabinet maker and carpenter until retiring at the age of 93.
These two are among the group of people Governor Steve Bullock calls “legacy Montanans.”
“Montanans are currently living longer. I learned that, one of the many honors I get to do is sign certificates for the Centenarians. Writers cramp this year,” Bullock said.
Montana has 175 centenarians as of the 2010 census. Bureau Chief of Aging Services Charlie Rehbein with the state Department of Health and Human Services says lifelong Montanans are getting older, other native Montanans are returning to live out their golden years in the Treasure State, and others are moving in for retirement. The conference aims to look at ways to tackle some of the challenges that exist with aging in Montana.
“I think for the future what we have to look at is; how do we provide services to people in those more rural, isolated areas in Montana. They’ve grown up there, they’ve lived there all their lives, and now they’re moving into town, or whatever, and- are the services, can we get the services to them,” Rehbein said.
Rehbein said several communities in Montana are already hitting half of their population over the age of 65. The focus of this year’s conference was on health and wellness and getting information out to those who need it.
“We’re talking about arthritis, Alzheimer’s, a variety of in-home services, we’re doing one on driving; when should people think about retiring from driving as they age. We’re doing one on veteran’s direct home and community based services,” Rehbein said.
It also focused on avoiding scams geared toward the elderly; a problem Bullock says he became aware of in his former job as Attorney General.
“I know from the old job too is that the best way to respond, the best way to make sure that no one is taken by scams, is really through education. Spreading the network, or spreading the word through networks of family, friends and co-workers, as you’re doing here,” Bullock said.
Rehbein says in 20 years, 25-percent of the state’s population is projected to be 65-years-old or older.