|U.S. Census Bureau chart; |
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The strains and limits on the country’s caregiving system are especially acute in non-metropolitan areas, where one out of four Americans 65 and older live—some 10 million people. Around 65 percent of the areas that are short of health professionals are rural or partially rural, according to the Health Resources and Services Administration, Clare Ansberry reports for The Wall Street Journal.
Because so many people moved away from rural areas after they grew up, "the percentage of family caregivers—unpaid relatives or friends—living in rural areas fell to 16 percent in 2015 from 31 percent in 2009, according to reports by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP Public Policy Institute," Anberry reports.
Rural elderly residents face a host of barriers to accessing health care, like lack of transportation or ability to drive. And since rural hospitals keep closing, many rural patients have an unusually long drive to get to the nearest health care provider, Ansberry writes. Some seniors simply need to be watched, but it's difficult to find adult daycares in rural areas.
Volunteers are increasingly filling the gap in providing services for rural seniors. In Cavalier, a town of 1,200 in the northwest corner of North Dakota, a local volunteer group called Faith in Action takes seniors to medical appointments, grocery stores, dentists, and hair salons. Michelle Murray, who runs the group, says her 46 regular drivers are increasingly needed: they logged about 89,000 miles this year, compared to 76,000 miles last year, Ansberry reports.
"Partnerships are important, says John Feather, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, an association of foundations seeking ways to improve the experience of aging in America," Ansberry writes. "In Tennessee, he says, Meals on Wheels drivers alert the local Habitat for Humanity office when they see an older adult living in a home that isn’t safe or needs repairs. Such local efforts that can be replicated help foundations and other organizations see what is possible."