Dan Sewell

CINCINNATI: New projections say Ohio will have 16 counties in 2050 where a third or more of the population will be at least 60 years old, underscoring the challenges ahead as the state becomes grayer.

None of Ohio’s 88 counties had such a high percentage of 60-or-older people in 2010. The forecasts, based on data analysis and current trends, are from Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center. An earlier report from the center showed that six Ohio counties were expected to have a third of their 2020 populations at 60 or older.

Older populations are common in the economically struggling Appalachian region in southern and eastern Ohio. One county, Noble, is projected to have half its population 60 or older by 2050. The region’s populations are smaller than those in much of the state and young people often leave the area to seek job and education opportunities elsewhere. As a result, the percentage of older residents in the area rises ahead of statewide and national trends as the Baby Boomer generation ages and life spans increase.

“It’s the first edge of this wave we’re seeing,” said Suzanne Kunkel, director of the Oxford-based gerontology center. “Everybody’s going to be dealing with this issue.”

Such large percentages aren’t expected in some of Ohio’s most urban counties, as recent trends have shown older people moving to the Sun Belt states for retirement or to suburban or smaller communities for housing and lifestyles better suited to retirement. Franklin County, which includes the state capital of Columbus, is among counties projected to have the smallest proportion of older adults, with 21 percent 60 or older by 2050.

The center provides research to the Ohio Department of Aging and other state officials who are working on ways to cope with the coming changes in an era of government spending cuts.

“The challenges are to think about creative ways to support those older populations as they age,” Kunkel said. “Most people want to stay home for as long as possible.”

Some regions and communities are trying local initiatives to share resources, programs and costs for special home needs, nutrition, treatment and other help in areas with large senior populations.

The gerontology center is launching this week a new website that provides visual tracking of the projections, with colored maps, pyramids, charts and reports on population changes and data. Researchers plan to add information about all Ohio age groups, migration patterns, disabilities and more forecasts.

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Online: Scripps Gerontology Center site on Ohio population trends: http://www.ohio-population.org/

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