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Aging baby boomers will create 'silver tsunami' for Sonoma County

  • Council on Aging site manager Michelle Farley serves breakfast to, from left in red, Rosie Gomez, Jackie Cohen and Rhema Brown in red hat Friday Feb. 8, 2013 at Silvercrest senior living apartments in Santa Rosa. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2013

Before she came to Santa Rosa 16 years ago, Jackie Cohen spent her life in New York City.

Cohen, 86, raised her family working as a secretary while her husband, a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, worked in maintenance at the Lincoln Center.

But Cohen, who lives at the Silvercrest senior complex in Santa Rosa, left New York to be closer to her son and has never regretted the move.

"The best thing I ever did was come here," Cohen said. "I think Santa Rosa is wonderful. There are so many programs here for seniors."

Even with those programs, growing old has not been easy. Cohen struggles with arthritis, diabetes, high blood pressure and congestive heart failure. And as the ranks of the elderly begin to swell, it's not at all clear that the community will be able to maintain the level of care and resources Cohen has come to appreciate.

"I think all over the world there are going to be more seniors, and it's not easy," Cohen said last week as she ate lunch provided by the Council on Aging, a local nonprofit that provides services to people over age 60.

In fact, the so-called "silver tsunami" being generated by aging baby boomers will peak in Sonoma County a lot sooner than most people realize. And as that occurs, the number of working-age adults in Sonoma County -- those who pay most of the taxes that support services for the elderly -- will be declining.

Today, one in seven county residents is 65 and older. But in 2030 -- just 17 years away -- that share will grow to one in four people, a demographic balance that will endure for at least three decades.

What's more, in just seven years, one in five county residents will be 65 and older. This rapid expansion of the senior population will cause unprecedented growing pains in the county and will require a dramatic shift in local business, education, housing, health care and just about everything else.

"Right now, there are services that people want and resources that people need that don't exist or are very expensive," said Diane Kaljian, director of the adult and aging services division of the county Human Services Department.

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