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Turning 100 will soon be commonplace

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An uninvited but unavoidable guest at the state's annual birthday party for Utahns who have lived more than 100 years was the clear indication that pretty soon living 10 decades won't be anything special.

What was written on all those lined faces who attended the Governor's Century Club of Utah had more to do with the future than the past. That was easily evident to Robin Arnold-Williams, director of the state Department of Human Services, which monitors things such as life-expectancy trends.

Utah has 123 residents who will be 100 or older by the end of this year. The youngest will be 100 Oct. 5 and the oldest turned 115 last March.

"We used to hold this at the Governor's Mansion, but it's gotten too big," Arnold-Williams said. "Most people came in wheelchairs; now many are walking in. People are just living longer and staying well longer. This is a pretty clear indicator of things to come."

Some of the things coming include:

By the middle of this century, life expectancy will be 100 years. The life expectancy of Utahns has almost doubled in the past 100 years; it was 45 years in 1900 and is 80 years today.

Two-thirds of all the people who have ever lived more than 65 years are alive right now.

Utah's child orientation will be shifted as baby boomers become seniors and the over-85 set becomes the fastest-growing age group.

This is life just around the corner, Ron Stromberg, assistant director of the state Division of Aging, recently said in a presentation to a group of legislators.

"The country wasn't prepared for the baby boomers, and it never has been at any age," Stromberg said. "They (boomers) weren't really planned for and they have changed society in significant ways ever since they got here."

They were the activists in the 1960s, they take an active approach to life and their health care, and they are about to overload and no doubt change the system again as seniors, Stromberg said.

"And that doesn't take into account the current birth dearth," he said, noting that there are already 3.3 people over 60 for every child younger than age 4.

Accompanying the growth in the aged will be an increase in social issues that affect them. The growth in population can't be avoided but the accompanying boom in senior abuse, neglect and exploitation can be if the state takes action now, Stromberg said.

The state investigated 2,350 reports of neglect or exploitation last year. Those incidents are not only expected to increase, the type of neglect and financial fraud involving seniors is going up as well, the agency reports.

One disturbingly clever case in Utah involved a daughter who placed elderly and ailing parents in separate nursing homes. Then, in a twist of the Romeo and Juliet story, she told each that the other had died, got their power of attorney and sold everything off, then took off.

"This exploitation by the kids is rationalized by saying 'The stuff was going to be mine anyway, so we just took it early,' " Stromberg said.

There was another case of a grown child charging his ailing parent $500 a week to mow the lawn.

A scam getting more popular is so-called handymen fixing cracks in driveways or telling seniors their chimneys have masonry "cancer" and that the "cure" costs $1,000.

There's always a lot of talk about neglect and mistreatment that go on in nursing homes, but 73 percent of it occurs in the senior's own home, and 57 percent of the time, crimes against seniors are committed by a relative, Stromberg said.

"This will be the social problem of this century," he said. "It's where domestic violence was 20 years ago."

In an attempt to help frame a state senior-protection statutes, Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Salt Lake, is asking for model legislation designed to protect vulnerable adults. A bill is being drafted and Jones plans to introduce it at the next general session of the Legislature in January.

Jones, who represents a large number of seniors, said the bill basically rewrites the state's adult protective services statutes. The changes are needed because as they stand now they are essentially a mirror of laws governing child protective services.

Exploitation is increasing dramatically, said Jones, who has been out to seniors' homes with agency investigators responding to calls and notes that they are popular targets for exploitation because 70 percent of the wealth is controlled by people 50 years and older.

The elderly aren't like children because their rights as adults need to be taken into account, Jones said. "Drafting the bill is no easy task because while there needs to be some method of identifying who is at risk, there must be maximum protection of their rights and self-determination."

Now is time now to work it out because it makes more sense to change statutes before things are motivated by some crisis situation, Jones said.

"This whole area of aging has been neglected," she said, noting that Utah's Adult Protective Services has only been around since 1993. "Like they say, if aging isn't your issue, it will be."

E-MAIL: jthalman@desnews.com