Elderly population is fastest-growing in Memphis area
He could be playing golf or checkers, but Reuben Barnes decided to spend his retirement years rediscovering the pastime he fell in love with all way back in junior high school: theater. On Wednesday afternoon, the 75-year-old Barnes and other members of the drama ensemble at the Orange Mound Community Services Center were busy preparing for their final production of the year, an opera. It’s the kind of challenge that helps them stay vital.
“It keeps your mind going,” Barnes said. “You’ve got to keep going. You can’t just stay at home with the (TV) remote.”
In Orange Mound and across metropolitan Memphis, the needs of seniors are taking on increasing importance as a tsunami-sized wave of residents reaches retirement age.
Between 2010 and 2016, the number of residents aged 65 and older in the nine-county Memphis metropolitan area increased by 35,216, or 25 percent, according to census estimates. That’s more than 10 times the overall 2.3 percent population growth rate of the area.
While the below-65 population of the metro area barely changed during the six-year period, the number of children under 18 years old actually dropped by 11,271, or 3.2 percent. The median age for the metro area ticked up from 34.6 to 35.7 years, and the portion of the local population made up of seniors rose from 10.6 percent to 13.1 percent.
Certain areas have higher concentrations of the elderly, including Germantown, where at least 19 percent of residents are over 65, and Bartlett, where seniors make up 15.5 percent of the population.
The elderly population has been rapidly growing across the U.S. as some 10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day. But the increase locally exceeded the 21.7 percent growth nationally in the over-65 population between 2010 and 2016.
Coupled with the stagnant population growth among other age groups in the Memphis area, the sharp increase in the number of elderly residents will bring a mix of challenges and benefits, local economists and officials say.
With demand for medical services rising, the older population will be good for the local healthcare industry, said David Ciscel, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Memphis. Seniors also tend to provide a stable “base consumption” level that helps support retail businesses, he said.
But elderly residents generally aren’t as entrepreneurial or as supportive of education improvements as other age groups, Ciscel said.
“Productivity and education are not enhanced, and consequently economic growth is not enhanced when you have an elderly population,” he said.
Renee Frazier, CEO emeritus of the Common Table Health Alliance, said the area likely will face growing shortages of long-term care facilities and other housing for the elderly.
“Memphis is so affordable, boomers aren’t leaving. They’re staying,” Frazier said.
Many long-term care facilities have long waiting lists, said Shirley Bondon, executive director of the Aging Commission of the Mid-South. She cited homebased health care and home-delivered meals as other needs that will increase with the elderly population.
Rick Masson, executive director of the Plough Foundation, said the philanthropy conducted surveys and research that identified three main areas of need among seniors. The first is basic nutrition.
“(Many seniors) didn’t have any food around, and they couldn’t get out. They were eating only one meal a day at most,” Masson said.
The other needs are being able to safely stay in their homes and being protected from elderly abuse. Over a four-year period, Plough poured $13 million into local programs aimed at meeting those three areas of need, he said.
“It was an issue that wasn’t being addressed,” he said of the challenges facing seniors.
In the meantime, senior centers in places like Orange Mound and Bartlett are getting ever more use.
Candace Ward, facility manager at the Bartlett Senior Center, said that while the number of members at the center has stayed fairly steady at around 1,600 in recent years, “we expect it to grow.” The center has more than doubled the number of activities offered.
At the Orange Mound center, Joyce Dukes Shaw, founder and director of the drama ensemble, marvels at the vigor and talent of the group, whose members include a former Stax Records artist.
“We are active. The job is over, the children are gone. We’ve got time...,” Shaw said.
“You should see our productions – they’re off the chain.”
Reach Tom Charlier at thomas.charlier@commercial appeal.com or 901529-2572 and on Twitter at @thomasrcharlier.
Levi Robinson, 71, right, keeps an eye on the the competition as he plays checkers with Preston Hurt.
Gloria Coffey, 73, and Joe Morton, 77, take a turn around the floor at the Bartlett Senior Center during a seniors dance.
Ginger Webb, 75, and James Webb, 79, take a turn around the floor at the Bartlett Senior Center during a seniors dance. JIM WEBER / THE COMMERCIAL APPEAL