By Robert Higgs
Gov. John Kasich lauded older Ohioans Tuesday as a resource to be tapped as a productive part of society, while touting the need for programs to help the elderly keep physically fit, mobile and connected.
Speaking at a luncheon sponsored by the AARP, Kasich said growing old doesn't mean growing unproductive. Seniors can play a valuable role, offering expertise and lessons from experience.
"We want to be able to communicate to all of our seniors that you can be such a great participant in improving our culture, for everyone," Kasich said.
"At the heart of it all, our seniors, me included, feel that we need to pave the way for the success of our children."
A key part of that, Kasich said, is keeping seniors fit with exercise and good nutrition and proper medical care.
"We want to . . . convince our seniors to fight to be healthy," Kasich said.
The governor, who just turned 61, talked up the benefits of exercise and keeping fit, saying he tries to work out every day.
"When you're physically fit, it changes your whole attitude about what's going on in the world."
And the state, he said, has a role in encouraging health and fitness to promote a healthier work force, better manage health costs and give people roles in society.
"We should strive in our state to be the healthiest state," he said.
An initiative later this year by the Ohio Department of Aging will work toward that end. A program that will focus on efforts to prevent falls, that can often be debilitating for older persons, should be ready by September, said Bonnie Kantor-Burman, director of the Department of Aging.
"You'd be surprised at how many individuals are scared of one thing happening, and then they assume the next thing will happen," Kantor-Burman said. "So they assume 'if I have a walker, I'm old and I'm frail. I can't think, and I'm going to have to go to a nursing home.' "
Overcoming those fears, though, means changing attitudes about what it means to grow old, she said.
The view used to be "as we get older, we get frail," Kantor-Burman said. "Now we know that's not happening."
And while some components will target older people, others could focus on the young, with the idea of preventing health issues earlier in life.
A program focused on getting 12-year-old girls to drink more milk, for example, could pay dividends later if it helps prevent osteoporosis, Kantor-Burman said. The condition can make bones more fragile and likely to fracture, particularly in a fall.
Another initiative, meant to increase access to transportation for seniors after they stop driving, is just a concept at this point, Kasich said. But allowing people to be mobile is important toward keeping them active in society.
"I don't think God created a retirement program. I think the Lord wants us to serve humanity," Kasich said.
The goal is to "change the idea of what it means to be older and to try to get people who are older to think differently," Kasich said.
Some people will have physical limitations, he said. But in a world with computers and the Internet, "it's amazing the difference some people can make."