Cape Elizabeth panel urges action on issues facing the elderly

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CAPE ELIZABETH — An advisory panel has presented preliminary recommendations to the Town Council about how life can be improved for the town’s senior citizens.

Brett Seekins, chairman of the Senior Citizen Advisory Commission, on Nov. 6 talked to councilors about several concerns seniors face, including transportation, communication, social opportunities, and affordable housing and taxes.

“We’re speaking many times for people who don’t have a voice in this community,” Seekins said. “Aging is a very serious issue in this country and it’s a very serious issue in Maine.”

Seekins said 24 percent of Cape Elizabeth residents are 60 or older and nine percent are over 75. The Senior Citizen Advisory Commission is an ad-hoc committee that has been meeting twice a month since April to address issues that affect them.

Seekins said the shortage of transportation options means elderly people have trouble getting to the hospital or to doctors’ appointments, as well as to social events.

“The major concern is, do we have any isolation in our community?” Seekins said. “If anyone in our community is isolated, that leads to a multitude of other problems, and mostly their health starts to change.”

As part of the commission’s recommendations, Seekins asked the council to purchase a 14-passenger van to transport seniors around town. Councilor Jamie Wagner asked Seekins to look into the cost of the van before he comes back with a formal report this winter.

Seekins said older residents also feel there is a lack of communication.

“We need to communicate more and differently,” he said. “There was a call from those folks that we spoke to, to have a central location for referrals and town services.”

Seekins recommended that a senior guide be developed and that it be available across multiple platforms. He said there could be a paper guide that could be distributed, a senior hot-line for those who have trouble seeing and reading, and a tab on the town website where the information could be stored.

“Lack of communication or understanding or misunderstanding of where information is kept leads to confusion and barriers to timely assistance,” Seekins said.

Seekins said seniors would also like to see a senior center developed in the town center. Information from the senior guide could also be available here, and it would give seniors a place to socialize.

“What we’re hearing is that social opportunities may be limited and there’s a need for more varied programs and activities in the town,” Seekins said.

Seekins said the commission also recommends that the town hire or seek a volunteer to run senior programming at the center.

He said seniors in town also feel that property taxes are becoming a burden and that the cost of living is too high. 

The commission, which was formed in January 2014, is set to continue its work until March 2015. Seekins also asked the council to make it a standing committee.

“These problems, these issues, they’re going to change year to year to year and we really need to stay focused, stay on top of it, and continue meeting,” he said.

Councilor Molly MacAuslan asked Seekins what the commission plans to accomplish between now and March, and he said members want to refine the recommendations they make to council before the next presentation this winter.

He also said the commission wants to bring in an elder abuse attorney to talk at one of its meetings and add that information to its report.

“Elder abuse is at an all-time high and we need to have some general awareness in our community,” Seekins said.

Wagner also asked Seekins to have the commission look into what Cape Elizabeth Community Services already does for seniors and see if it could help with the recommendations.

Councilor Jim Walsh said that while the Nov. 6 meeting was an early version of the formal presentation, it is important to be aware of and working on the issues that face senior citizens.

“This was really more of a pre-emptive approach to what we believe is a very important issue facing our community, and one that we want to be ahead of,” Walsh said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.