Local View: Better together ... and we'll all be needed to care for our aging population

Minnesotans are healthier than most Americans, on average, and they are living longer than ever before: 78.7 years for men and 82.9 years for women, as reported in the News Tribune on April 12 ("Study: Minnesota ranks fourth in life expectancy")....

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Minnesotans are healthier than most Americans, on average, and they are living longer than ever before: 78.7 years for men and 82.9 years for women, as reported in the News Tribune on April 12 ("Study: Minnesota ranks fourth in life expectancy"). The average age of life spent in full health is 70.3 years in Minnesota, the highest in the country.

Kristi Kane

It is our goal at the Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging to help Minnesotans live as independently as possible for as long as possible. But even with good health practices, 70 percent of those who reach 65 eventually require some form of long-term care and services.

Because we are living longer and because the population over 65 is growing rapidly, we all need to do more to provide the care and services our aging community members need now and for the foreseeable future. Many more people will need care, and there is a shrinking pool of people to provide that care.

According to the U.S. Census, the elderly dependency ratio in the United States in 2015 was about 1-to-4, or 25 people age 65-plus compared to 100 people ages 18-64, which is the standard working age range. That ratio will be less than 1-to-3 by 2030 when there will be 37 Americans aged 65-plus for each 100 Americans of working age. The dependency ratio doesn't take into consideration unemployment, family relationships, geographic separation, or many other factors that can reduce caregiver availability.


Here's one example of an elder-care challenge we face. More and more aging Minnesotans want to age in their homes for as long as possible. In Northeastern Minnesota, some of our counties have as few as three people over the age of 65 living in a square mile. This often means that home health care is not an option because of population density; in order to provide services, a home-health employee may need to drive more than an hour one way to reach an elder's home. Home health companies cannot justify the expense of windshield time with a limited profit margin due to caps on public funding for home health and the limited ability of many people to pay out of pocket for such services. Home health employees cannot afford to drive two hours round trip for four hours or less of work. As a result, entire regions go without home health service.

The Arrowhead is not alone in this challenge. Transportation, workforce shortage, and the availability of service are challenges in many rural parts of Minnesota.

The need has never been greater for professional caregivers, including home health workers, adult day providers, assisted living employees, and nursing home staff. They are all needed to provide the network of care and services people deserve and expect as they age. The aging journey is different for everyone, and people need different kinds of support at different stages. Having a range of care and services is necessary, and it isn't possible without caregivers.

With challenge comes opportunity, and what I see before us is potential. Increased awareness of the importance of a range of quality care and services for our elders is an opportunity for aging community members, families, consumer advocates, caregivers, and policymakers to come together around issues that matter to nearly all Minnesotans. We need to work together and take a holistic approach to ensure we strengthen our aging care and services network to meet Minnesota's growing needs.

As neighbors, we need to help each other out, teach our kids the value of shoveling or mowing for the couple across the street, and draw on their skillset as retired professionals for things like homework help. As professionals, we need to be creative and seek experts and collaborative opportunities outside of our regular circles to plan for our aging communities throughout Greater Minnesota.

Looking forward to the coming years with a growing elder population, we can be sure that we will see new advances in technology of care, new models of collaboration, and increased ingenuity. After all, necessity is the mother of invention. We need a collaborative, big-picture approach to develop the best and most efficient ways of providing Minnesota's aging community members the quality care and services they need - and we need every voice at the table.


Kristi Kane of Duluth is the director for the Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging (

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