The repetition of statistics about Maine’s high number of senior citizens has become an old story, which is why Lori K. Parham said she wanted to focus her talk at the fourth annual Aging Initiative Workshop on the benefits seniors bring to the economy and their communities.

The state director of AARP Maine, Parham gave the morning keynote on August 24 at the University of Maine Hutchinson Center in Belfast, where approximately 120 people gathered to discuss the positive contributions of seniors, as well as local service programs and problematic issues such as unmet social needs.

“Older Americans are a powerful, positive force in our community and we can’t lose sight of that,” said Parham, who noted an estimate that in the year 2042, Baby Boomers, Generation-Xers and Millennials will all be eligible for Social Security payments at the same time.

Parham highlighted AARP’s Livable Communities agenda, which includes safe and walkable streets; housing and reliable transportation; and access to support services. The agenda is aimed at enhancing personal independence, community involvement and social life, allowing seniors to “age in place” rather than having to move to senior living or other community facilities.

The AARP Home and Community Preferences Survey conducted in May 2018 polled people over the age of 50 about how they want to live out their older years. Among the findings, 77 percent of those polled wish to remain in their community, 76 percent want to stay in their current residence, and half of all respondents would consider sharing a home in order to lower costs. The survey results are available online at www.aarp.org/research/topics/community/info-2018/2018-home-community-preference.html.

Parham said that unmet social needs increase problems in various areas of life for older Americans. Transportation and mobility difficulties overlap with insecurity about food and difficulty paying bills.

Parham said older adults remain a vital part of the nation’s economic engine. Seniors account for 80 percent of the U.S. net worth, 71 percent plan on working past the traditional retirement age, and people in their 50s and 60s start new businesses at twice the rate of those in their 20s, she said.

“Sometimes the only story we see in the media is the fight to attract Millenials and keep them happy,” Parham said, noting that AARP wants to bring generations together rather than splintering them.

She acknowledged that some seniors have to work longer than expected due to monetary pressures that were not as prevalent in previous years. “There is a new word for ‘retirement’ and it is called ‘work,’” she said.

Yet seniors are not only responding by continuing to work and contribute to the economy, they retain public voices in their communities and can help decide elections. “Older Americans are a political force, especially at the local level,” Parham said, adding that AARP does not endorse candidates but urges seniors to get out and vote.

The day’s program also included an afternoon keynote address by Susan Wehrey, primary care geriatrics division chief at University of New England College of Osteopathic Medicine. A panel discussion about available services and programs included board members of Maine’s Area Agencies on Aging, including Gerry Queally, CEO of Spectrum Generations; Joy Baressi Saucier, executive director of the Aroostook Agency on Aging; Betsy Sawyer-Manter, executive director of SeniorsPlus; and Dyan Walsh, executive director of Eastern Area Agency on Aging.

Kay Kimball, head of campus at the University of Maine at Machias, reminded attendees of the widespread support for the senior community in Maine and the need to continue the effort. “Aging does not occur in a vacuum,” she said.