N.D.’s 85-and-older population presents challengesGordon Caldis, 92, still lives in the home on Grand Forks’ Belmont Road that he moved into 60 years ago with his wife, LeNore. Caldis is part of a growing segment of North Dakota’s population, what the U.S. Census calls the “oldest old,” defined as those 85 and older.
By: Pamela Knudson, Grand Forks Herald
Gordon Caldis, 92, still lives in the home on Grand Forks’ Belmont Road that he moved into 60 years ago with his wife, LeNore.
A former city and state’s attorney, he gave up his private practice only a few months ago.
“I feel very fortunate health-wise,” the former UND football player said, attributing his good condition to regular exercise, enthusiasm for sports and an enduring interest in the law.
He’s healthy enough that he contemplates traveling to visit with his five kids, 11 grand-children and five great-grandchildren.
His only impediment is some vision loss has prompted him to give up driving not long ago.
Caldis is part of a growing segment of North Dakota’s population, what the U.S. Census calls the “oldest old,” defined as those 85 and older. The 2010 Census revealed that North Dakota has the second-highest proportion of oldest old in the nation, at 2.48 percent of the total state population.
The rate is exceeded only by Rhode Island with 2.54 percent.
Minnesota is at 2.01 percent. The national average is 1.78 percent.
By 2030, the Census projects, North Dakota’s oldest old rate will rise to 3.84 percent by 2030, the nation’s highest, though this is based 2000 Census figures and does not account for the recent population growth in the Oil Patch.
By 2030, the Census projects that Minnesota’s rate will be at 2.67 percent, slightly higher than the national average of 2.64 percent.
The impact on housing options, business practices and health care are causing leaders in these fields to consider ways to identify and respond to the needs of this population.
Aging in place
A factor that may contribute to North Dakota’s growing number of elderly is the propensity for many to stay where they are.
Many of the state’s seniors have never moved and have no desire to move, said Devon Han-sen, a UND associate professor of geography who studies population patterns and trends, particularly outmigration of youth and young families in rural areas.
“We’re always concerned about those particular populations — youth and the very old — and having people to take care of the older population,” she said.
Her research findings are noteworthy because, even though North Dakota has grown in part because of the oil boom, small farming communities are still losing young people.
In her studies of Grafton and Larimore in northeast North Dakota, she said, “we found that older people either had not moved or had come back to the place they grew up, to be near family. They liked being close to Grand Forks and medical facilities.”
Another reason that North Dakota is retaining more seniors and attracting others may be economic, according to Andy Peterson, president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce.
“North Dakota has a good climate for retirees,” Peterson said. “If you’re looking to retire you may choose to stay in North Dakota. Minnesota personal income tax, for example, is much higher.
“North Dakota is one of those states that lends itself to a favorable tax climate.”
But seniors have their own special needs, such as housing and health care. National statis-tics confirm common expectations that the oldest old tend to require more medical services. Unlike Caldis, many are also too frail to live on their own and must move into retirement facilities.
All of which influences decisions made by communities around the region.
Cavalier, N.D., for example, already offers many services that older people need and ap-preciate, but finds that it needs more to retain its seniors and attract more, according to Shari Hanson, executive director of the Cavalier Area Chamber of Commerce.
The oldest old rate in Pembina County, where Cavalier holds the county seat, is higher than the state average at 3.78 percent. As part of its effort to grow its population, the county wants to attract more seniors.
A recent survey revealed a lack of senior housing, specifically single-story homes with at-tached garages, Hanson said. “This would be attractive especially for people who would like to move in from the farm.”
Cavalier also offers a nursing home and an assisted-living facility, which she said is usually full with a waiting list.
In response, the town of 1,300 has developed a housing authority, a framework to capture funding support and begin addressing that need.
Health care services are also pivotal to retaining and attracting seniors, Hanson said. “We have a wonderful hospital,” she said. “That’s how we’ve been able to keep our elderly here.”
Across the state, communities will have to deal with the needs of the very old, said Hansen, the UND expert on population patterns. “They need to look at what kind of medical and health care they’ll need, as well as assisted living and maybe nursing care.”
To provide these services, communities should consider how they are connecting with young people, she said. Her studies include surveys of high school students that attempt to gather deeper insight into this issue.
What she’s found is that the quality of the connection makes a world of difference and, in the case of Grafton, fewer young people want to leave than commonly assumed.
“If youth are saying ‘We know they care about us as young people,’ they may go away but, if they get a chance, they’ll return,” she said. “If young people do have these feelings early on, it’s very much an incentive to come back.”
Hanson expects that young people will go away to get more education, she said. “But we need to look at what makes them want to come back and be involved in their communities.”
For most people, where they choose to live boils down to having a job opportunity, but many other people already have a connection to the community — a connection that can be lever-aged for the benefit of its residents.
The senior workforce
But seniors can make their own contributions to the workforce.
Peterson, the Chamber president, cited a friend who, at age 76, unloads stock several times a week at a department store. “She is very physically fit and wants to stay busy. (The store) is very flexible with her; they like her and want to keep her around.”
Older people like to work, he said, they like the social interaction and want to keep active.
“Businesses are starting to realize the workforce is aging,” he said. “They need to be more flexible.” For example, he said, many seniors prefer to work part time, and businesses that can accommodate them can reap the benefits of their experience and reliability.
“The older workforce is not something to be feared,” he said. “I think it’s great. They’ve got work habits that sometimes younger people have yet to develop. The mentorship they provide is important.
“When we understand what everybody wants in a job, we’re on our way.”
Reach Knudson at (701) 780-1107; (800) 477-6572, ext. 107; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.