Thursday, November 29, 2012

Appalachia's aging population could be 'canary in the coal mine' for rest of country, scholars write

"With its higher proportion of older residents, Appalachia may be America’s 'canary in the coal mine,' an early warning system of problems and possibilities that come with an older population. Paying close attention to what is happening in the Appalachian region will benefit everyone interested in the future of older Americans," write Phillip Obermiller and Robert Ludke of the University of Cincinnati in their journal article, "Appalachia and its Aging Cohort: An Early Warning System for American Aging," published in the most recent edition of Aging Today.

More than 15 percent of the region's residents are 65 or older, compared to the national average of 13 percent. The share is expected to reach 20 percent by 2025. "Appalachia's older-than-age-65 population is growing faster than in the United States or even in the 639 counties adjoining the region," Obermiller and Ludke write. Men aged 65 to 74 form the fastest-growing segment of the population, at triple the rate of women in the same age range. The authors write that they have no specific cause for this, except that women may move from the region more frequently.

The authors say Appalachia's population is older than average because of "the constant flow of younger people out of the region." The greater percentage of elderly doesn't mean they have longer life spans than the average non-Appalachian. Mortality among those aged 35 to 64 is higher in Appalachia than in the rest of the country, most likely the result of higher rates of chronic disease, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Poor diet and poor environmental, social and economic conditions contribute to health disparities, the authors write.

"Creative responses to both the challenges and opportunities of an older population are already underway at the local level" in Appalachia, the authors write. In West Virginia, there are six designated retirement communities, counties in which elderly can find affordable housing, healthcare and recreational opportunities. The Christian Appalachian Project provides service for elderly people in Kentucky in the hope they can remain in their homes longer. In North Carolina, the Appalachian Heritage Crafters train senior citizens how to make, market and sell homemade crafts.

To gain full access to the journal article, click here.

No comments: