Maine’s older population is a microcosm for the current challenges of aging adults and their families across the U.S. The state's median age is the oldest of all 50 states, the percentage of those age 65 years and older is second only to Florida, and the proportion of seniors living in rural areas is in the top five nationally. Unless these patterns change, one in four Mainers will be age 65 or older in another decade or so.
Human aging is a major social and political issue in Maine. Challenges abound, and many involve financial resources (or lack thereof). Modern healthcare is expensive, as are housing and transportation infrastructures. Add to this the diversity inherent in being just human and you get many individual trajectories. Some people thrive, while others struggle. Mainers are a hardy lot, however, and most find ways to get by and even thrive in the midst of declining public resources and growing urban-rural divides. There’s much to be learned from their experiences, wisdom and resilience.
This “hardiness” is one reason why the study of aging is so important in this state. What works in one community can inform best practices in another, whether in Maine or elsewhere. In other words, to study aging in Maine is to shine a light on creative adaptations and critical differences relevant to individuals, groups, and communities across the globe.
There’s much to learn from the life narratives of aging Mainers, and this is why the CEAH was formed in 2017. A generous financial gift and a visionary institutional commitment compose the foundation. Now, under the leadership of Founding Director, Dr. Tom Meuser, the CEAH stands ready to fertilize and grow research on healthful aging for as many people as possible.
The Center’s charge and challenge is to work across disciplinary lines to bring faculty, students, and older adults together in the pursuit of knowledge that matters. One planned focus is chronic pain, a major contributor to depression and disability among older adults. Cutting-edge research on the biomedical and neurological bases of pain are ripe for translation and application to the daily lives of older adults. Who wouldn’t want to live with less pain?
Another area is end of life planning. We live in a death denying society, yet we all share this same end point. Considering one’s own eventual death and legacy can be empowering in the present. Many academic disciplines have a voice on this topic. The CEAH will promote dialog and encourage cross-disciplinary partnerships to advance research on quality of life broadly defined.
These are just a couple of paths the Center will follow. Our Vision Statement will serve as a guide for many others in the coming years: Advancing inclusive, narrative-informed, and outcome-oriented research on healthful aging.