AUBURN — Maine is on the cutting edge of a demographic change that has seniors outnumbering children for the first time.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks Friday with Phyllis Anctil. a member of the SeniorsPlus advisory board, at the Fill the Plate Breakfast in Auburn. Patricia McCluskey, president of the board of directors at SeniorsPlus, is in the background.  Laura Nguyen photo

 

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins said Friday that by 2035, there will be more Americans 65 and older than 18 and younger  — but “in Maine, we’ve already reached that milestone.”

The four-term Republican told the annual Fill the Plate Breakfast to raise money for Meals on Wheels that she chose to lead the Senate’s Aging Committee because of the growing need to focus on issues related to seniors. She said the needs of the elderly and disabled have “not been receiving sufficient attention” and she is trying to spotlight them as chairwoman of the panel.

Among the issues she mentioned at the Hilton Garden Inn Auburn Riverwatch were the necessity of reining in prescription drug prices, preventing scams that cheat seniors and dealing “with a rising isolation epidemic” that leaves too many older citizens lonely.

One of the great benefits of the Meals on Wheels program operated by SeniorsPlus in Lewiston for people in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, she said, is that volunteers who bring meals also check in with recipients regularly and help keep them connected to the outside world.

Collins said the “caring and dedicated citizens” who help with the program do a lot to combat a social isolation that can wreak havoc with the health of elderly residents who don’t have other regular ties to the community.

She said, for example, that one recent survey found that when seniors get good news, they often have nobody to tell except their pets.

Collins said pets are great — “my husband and I would be lost without our 1-year-old lab Pepper” — but having some social sustenance in addition is important.

Lonely seniors are more likely to suffer from financial scams, elder abuse and other woes, she said.

The Aging panel has focused a lot of its effort on trying to inform elderly Americans of the risks of getting scammed by crooks looking to take their money.

“These criminals are ruthless and they will stop at nothing,” Collins said.

She also talked extensively about her efforts to bring down the price of prescription drugs by encouraging generics, freeing pharmacists to tell customers of the best deals and clamping down on patent abuse.

Collins said in many ways the past century has been “an age of miracle drugs,” but nowadays the miracle is finding a drug “that has not doubled in cost since the last refill.”

Betsy Sawyer-Manter, president and chief executive officer of SeniorsPlus, said nobody has done more for seniors in Washington than Collins has.

The senator returned the praise, calling SeniorsPlus “such an outstanding resource” for the entire region.

Meals on Wheels of SeniorsPlus and its social dining programs serve 131,000 meals annually in its three-county region.

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