Will Idaho’s growing old-age population shape Boise in a different way?

A patient holds the hand of an employee at an Ashley Manor memory-care center in the Treasure Valley. With the population aging, the Meridian company has 15 centers in the Treasure Valley, eight elsewhere in Idaho and 11 in Colorado. Statesman file

When many people think about “shapers” of a community, they may think first of people with power, who make decisions like where roads will go, where to put new housing developments, or how to build and run companies that thrive.

My first thought about community “shapers” zeroed in on “invisible” changes that have and will continue to mold our world. They are like slow-boiling water — changes that happen slowly enough that we don’t notice them at the time but eventually have quite an impact (in the boiling water example, a frog is usually an unsuspecting victim). These are small events that barely deserve notice or mention until, boom, we realize we’ve been “shaped.”

One of my favorite invisible shapers has always been demographic changes, which happen slowly but have big impacts. One that hits me these days is our aging population and what kind of shaping it is leading us toward.

Apparently, Idaho is in the top 10 states of those with the fastest-growing populations over 65. Between 2000 and 2015, the state’s over-65 age group skyrocketed by 62 percent, compared with 21 percent for those 15-64 years old.

And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, 23,000 of those Idahoans over 65 suffer from Alzheimer’s, with an expected 33,000 by 2025, less than a decade from now. Many receive care from family members who may also be caring for a child or grandchild.

Maybe it’s my age, but it seems that nearly everyone I know has been touched by a family member or friend with some form of dementia.

So I began to wonder: Will this demographic (and health) shift “shape” us in new ways? Might we become more aware of the shortage of caregivers and urge young people to go into gerontology medicine and care? Might we become more compassionate as our own relatives go through the slow decline of dementia and in turn become kinder to others in general?

Perhaps this invisible shaper will help the most livable city become one of the kindest or most compassionate as well.

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