As of 2016, more than 217,000 Rhode Islanders – approximately 20 percent of the state’s population – were 60 years of age or older, according to the Rhode Island 2016 Health Aging Data Report.
By 2040, that figure is expected to increase significantly, to roughly 264,000. Additionally, Rhode Island’s population of those 85 and older is the highest in the nation by proportion.
Those figures point to the importance of ensuring the eldest segments of our community receive the services and support needed to age in a health, sustainable way.
With that in mind, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs recently announced the launch of its new name – the Office of Healthy Aging.
“It is a welcome departure from a narrative on aging in Rhode Island – and elsewhere – that for too long, has been rooted in ageism; punctuated by negative descriptors, such as ‘frail’ and ‘vulnerable’; and anchored in the past,” Rosamaria Amoros Jones, director of the office, writes in a message announcing the name change.
It continues: “Our population is growing older … And today, people are living longer; they are more active, more independent, and more ethnically and culturally diverse. It’s time to embrace a narrative on aging that acknowledges the ongoing contributions and realities of older Rhode Islanders and adults with disabilities.”
Amoros Jones’ message notes that adults with disabilities and those age 50 and older are “central to [Rhode Island’s] economic and social vitality.” That combined group, she writes, “represents nearly 40 percent of our state workforce and nearly 60 percent of consumer spending in Rhode Island.”
We agrees with Amoros Jones that these Rhode Islanders “deserve to have their stories told, the right to author their own life, and plentiful opportunities to participate in society.” We see the renaming of DEA to the Office of Healthy Aging as a positive step toward changing perceptions. We hope this pivot will result in more members of our state’s aging population connecting with resources and services that will help them continue to contribute to the rich fabric of our Ocean State community.
We also applaud efforts undertaken at the local level, such as at the Cranston Enrichment Center, to support older Rhode Islanders. We would particularly like to highlight the Dementia Friendly Community Series at the center, which is part of a broader, grant-funded effort to make Cranston more friendly to those experiencing dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of memory loss, as well as their caregivers. The series continued July 23 at 1:30 p.m.