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BLOOMINGTON - Mike O'Donnell is in Washington, D.C., for disaster planning.

"How do we prevent a disaster from occurring in health care and the human services as the baby boomers reach retirement age?" O'Donnell asked.

O'Donnell and Meg Johnson, both of Bloomington, are among 1,200 delegates from throughout the country at the White House Conference on Aging. The conference happens once a decade to help Congress and the president prioritize programs for older adults.

The 2005 conference is focused on existing older adults and on baby boomers.

The oldest boomers turn 60 in 2006. The huge boomer generation means that by 2030, the number of people aged 65 and older will more than double to 71 million people, or 20 percent of the population, O'Donnell said.

Unless plans are made to meet their needs, old boomers will strain health care and human services in the United States, said O'Donnell, executive director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

Johnson, who was not available for comment Tuesday, is a financial services director at State Farm Insurance Cos.

The conference began Sunday as delegates caucused and deliberated on 73 resolutions to assist the aging population. On Monday evening, delegates selected 50 of the 73 resolutions. On Tuesday, delegates began meeting in smaller groups to discuss how to implement the resolutions.

O'Donnell was in groups discussing:

Livable communities

Communities need to make it easier for older adults to stay at home, O'Donnell said. That includes determining where there are large concentrations of elderly and how to help provide meals, health care and personal assistance, as well as respite care for caregivers, he said.


While Bloomington-Normal has a public transit system and rural McLean County has Showbus to take people to special appointments, many counties don't have affordable public transportation for older adults, especially those in rural area, O'Donnell said.

Mental health

Depression, dementia and other mental disability are prevalent in older adults. Access to mental health diagnoses and treatment must be improved, O'Donnell said. Delegates aren't proposing that government assume all the planning and implementation cost of the resolutions.

"We are charged with addressing the role of the federal, state and local government, the community, the individual and family, business and technology," he said.

For example, the livable communities group wants the Older Americans Act updated to reflect several changes. The group estimates it will cost the federal government $250 million. But O'Donnell argued that's less than the cost to society if more older adults lived in nursing homes and said the recommendation mandates the cooperation of state and local government, economic development councils and regional planning commissions.

Before the conference concludes today, the 39 Illinois delegates will discuss how to begin implementing some of the resolutions.


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