PORTLAND (AP) – Elderly retirees are moving to Maine in growing numbers, lured by the state’s scenic beauty, small-town settings and cultural resources.

Coupled with the aging of Maine’s resident population, the influx of seniors has helped make Maine the seventh-oldest state in the nation, a demographic trend that will have a broad impact on many aspects of life.

Health care, the economy, social services and politics will all be affected – especially in southern Maine, where population growth far exceeded the statewide figure of 3.8 percent in the 2000 census.

The census showed that Cumberland County’s total population increased by 9.2 percent since 1990, but the number of people aged 65 or older climbed by 11 percent.

York County saw an overall population increase of 13.5 percent, while the number of elderly jumped by 22 percent. And in Sagadahoc County, the number of seniors increased by 16 percent, while the total population grew by only 5 percent.

The “senior boom” was perhaps most dramatic in places like Scarborough, Ogunquit and Topsham.

Part of the reason is the development of senior communities and assisted-living facilities that attract a stream of retirees who can afford the wide range of services and amenities offered.

Retired minister Ron Kurtz, 71, and his wife, Elaine, had hoped to stay permanently at their home in Cape Cod, but overcrowding and difficulties in finding the services they were looking for caused them to shift their focus to Maine.

The Kurtzes found much to their liking in Topsham, including a good quality of life, ample scenery along the coast, plenty of volunteer opportunities and a residential complex – The Highlands – that suited all their needs.

Places like The Highlands, Baysquare in Yarmouth and Piper Shores in Scarborough offer chef-prepared meals, fitness facilities, computer resources and more.

Apartments, cottages and condos within the communities sell for prices ranging from $200,000 to $450,000. That compares to a median selling price for a home in Maine of $153,000.

The state anticipated benefits from the senior boom in 1996, when it issued a study titled “Golden Opportunity.” Then-Gov. Angus King called for the state to examine the retirement industry as a means of supplementing Maine’s economy and quality of life.

In courting the retirement industry, the state invested in an area that promises to expand as the population ages. Galen Rose, an economist in the State Planning Office, said retirement communities attract people who typically have assets and health insurance, and can afford to pick up and move to Maine.

One of the largest impacts of the growth in the population could come in health care services.

Gordon Smith, executive vice president of the Maine Medical Association, said the state appears to have an adequate supply of doctors available to treat seniors, but that couod change as the population continues to age.

With more seniors populating the state, communities will also see changing demands for social and cultural services. Sig Knudsen, executive director of the 55 Plus Center in Brunswick, said today’s elders are increasingly active and want more in their retirement than any previous generation.

“Today’s older person is much more engaged and involved then they used to be,” he said.

As a result, community senior centers are growing and changing from simple gathering places where people come to sit for hours on end or enjoy a luncheon. Today they offer activity, as well as useful information.

On any given day of the week, residents from Topsham, Brunswick and Harpswell can be found at the 55 Plus Center, enjoying each other’s company through cribbage, yoga classes, computer courses, line dancing lessons and more.

On a recent Wednesday, Marjorie Perkins, 68, led a class of 12 through line dancing motions, swaying and instructing in time with the music. Perkins, a retired teacher, took up leading the class after taking it at the center herself.

During a break, Alice Chin, 76, Constance Rothery, 78, and Priscilla Rooth, 74, all of whom moved to the area from out of state, chatted about the importance of keeping busy and finding new challenges after retirement.

“It’s definitely important to have places to come together,” Rooth said.

Rothery added, “I think the fact that we all keep so busy is how we keep so young.”

AP-ES-08-03-03 1326EDT


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