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New panel on aging outlines long-term goals

In her mind, she's still a young woman, playing with siblings and falling in love for the first time, marrying and raising children of her own. But in real life, she's old and frail, dependent on others and largely ignored by her caretakers.

And the woman in the video has only one request: See me.

The powerful, eight-minute video helped launch the first meeting of the state's new Commission on Aging, created in this year's legislative session to address issues stemming from Utah's rapidly growing senior population.

Commission members, executive director Maureen Henry said, should keep the woman's story in mind as they go forward with their mission.

"Our task is not to fix all the problems of the elderly at the moment," Henry said. "Our task is to look into the future, use what's happening today as a database and try to make sure that the folks who are currently young mothers are going to get the best older moments in their life that they can get."

Rep. Patricia Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights, sponsored the legislation that created the Commission on Aging. The task was surprisingly difficult, Jones said Friday, and the commission faces increased pressure because of it.

"What I would like to see this commission come up with . . . is significant and substantial and meaningful possible legislation and possible policies that have to do with some of our seniors."

The 20-member commission is made up of representatives from all sectors, including the state departments of health, human services and Workforce Services, local agencies on aging, public safety, higher education and advocacy groups.

Former Utah first lady Norma Matheson, a longtime advocate for the senior community, is the group's honorary chairwoman.

"All of you in this room, I think, have the same desire, and that is to really do something," Matheson said Friday. "To really bring to the fore the dramatic changes that are happening in our aging population."

As it moves forward, special committees will be formed to address specific issues such as economic security, caregiver support, healthy aging, Medicare/Medicaid, transportation, workforce issues, legal issues and education.

Utah is the sixth fastest growing state in the nation in terms of its 65 and older population and is tied for second in terms of life expectancy.


E-mail: awelling@desnews.com