Thursday, October 31, 2019

Rural seniors face unique challenges; analyst says rural communities of faith can be important in helping them

A senior fellow at The Urban Institute who writes often about issues affecting senior citizens provides a cogent summary of major issues facing seniors who live in rural areas.

"According to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 10.6 million older adults live in rural communities—roughly one quarter of all seniors. But they represent a much larger fraction of their local populations than urban seniors," Howard Gleckman writes for Forbes. "About 17.5 percent of rural residents are over 65, while only about 14% of urban residents are older adults. Three-quarters of rural older adults live in the South and Midwest, but in states such as Maine and Vermont almost two-thirds of seniors live in rural communities." Gleckman also notes that the more rural a place is, the older average age its population is likely to have.

Here's a brief summary of Gleckman's points:
  • Rural seniors are, on average, poorer and sicker than their urban counterparts. They're more likely to be white and less educated, more likely to be male, less likely to be living in a nursing home, and more likely to be living in poverty. They're also more likely to suffer from chronic diseases. 
  • Transportation is a problem for seniors everywhere, but particularly for rural seniors with little to no public transportation, and especially in the winter.
  • Many rural seniors have a hard time accessing health care because their communities are less likely to have hospitals or full-time physicians.
  • Rural seniors are more likely to live in older, multi-story homes, which limits their ability to get around the house to take care of maintenance. 
  • Because of the mobility and transportation issues mentioned above, rural seniors often have a harder time maintaining social relationships, especially if their grown children have left town to work in a city.
"There are solutions," Gleckman writes. "For example, faith communities are especially important in rural areas, where they may be among the last remaining social institutions. They can work together to support congregants (or others) who need help. Local governments, fraternal organizations and other nonprofits—even with limited resources—can build programs that assist seniors aging at home. Programs such as Meals on Wheels or even postal workers can look in on homebound seniors."

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