Talk to just about anyone in Portland who has spent time thinking about aging in place, and that’s the one word that comes up again and again: community. “I think you are going to see smaller is better. Seniors are attempting to connect and integrate much more within their community,” says Jerry Cohen, director of AARP Oregon. The blueprints, says Cohen, are already in place, but the ?biggest challenge is finding the money to make such large housing and transportation shifts happen.
Despite Oregon’s progressive history with long-term care for seniors, the past five years have seen funding decrease for early-intervention services such as Oregon Project ?Independence—a program that provides sliding-scale in-home care and case management to individuals 60 and older who aren’t on Medicaid. Funding for that program was reduced by nearly half. As a result of ongoing cuts, the number of seniors in nursing homes is rising again—the very statistic the assisted-living pioneers sought to decrease. “Other states are just starting to adopt Oregon’s models,” says Mary Shortall, director of Multnomah County’s Aging and Disability Services division. “Meanwhile, we’re poised to lose ours.”
Yet Noonan and others remain hopeful.
“In the 1960s, we all wanted to change the world,” says Noonan, the mid-50s suburbanite who moved downtown. “And, of course, we didn’t really do that. But right now, there’s a big opportunity for this whole age group to return things to community, to look for new opportunities. To really change our quality of life.”
PSU’s Margaret Neal says of Portland, “There’s a level of receptivity here.” For instance, last year the Oregon Department of Transportation commissioned the Institute on Aging to study the factors that determine when people stop driving, and to advise the state on how to address the growing transit needs of Oregonians 65 and older. Metro recently partnered with the institute to look at age-related shifts in housing and transportation so that the region can better tailor its growth-management strategy to the aging population. “I think a lot of what we’ve found in terms of research will get implemented,” Neal says. “I’ve never been more optimistic.”