As percentage of elderly increases, Suncoast sees challenges, benefits

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SARASOTA - Already with the highest percentage of people over age 65 in the country, Sarasota County braces for more. As people live longer, and more choose to retire here, the area will feel a measurable impact on social services, businesses, and housing.

It could also change how we define "the elderly." Gerontologists use the terms "third age" and "fourth age" to describe people between 65-80 and 80 and above, respectively.

Those who can retire in their third age are "very vibrant, very healthy, very involved," says Kathy Black, a gerontology professor at USF Sarasota Manatee. "Those people are going to want cultural enrichment, intellectual enrichment, physical enrichment."

They will also need more services as they age and begin their natural decline in function as they move into their fourth age. "As the needs increase to provide services, and the resources available to help pay for those services diminish, there's a lot anguish and a lot of concern," says Tom Esselman, CEO of the Institute for the Ages in Sarasota.

While the potential strain on services offers a challenge to communities across the country as their populations age, those who deal with aging issues say those same communities will reap benefits, from attracting medical professionals, to an influx of experience and expertise that businesses and charities can tap.