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Report reveals needs of county's older adults

Barriers to service, concerns about living at home among findings
By: Michelle Miller-Carl, Journal News Editor
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Placer County seniors are concerned about being able to continue to live at home and have some challenges to getting information and receiving services, according to a new study presented to the Older Adult Advisory Commission Tuesday. With the population of county residents age 60 and older expected to double by 2025, the needs of the senior community will become even more important, said Jim Holmes, Placer County supervisor for District 3. “All the demographics say our community is getting older. More people moving here are retired, schools are having declining enrollment problems,” he said. “This tells us we have an older population here. If you go out to North Auburn, there are six pharmacies from Safeway to the new Walgreens being built. We’ve heard concerns from the older community on what Placer County is doing to provide services to the older population.” Through his discussions with staff at the Multipurpose Senior Center, Holmes and the board of supervisors assembled a task force in 2007 to complete a thorough needs assessment that would be a roadmap for serving the growing senior population. A $35,000 redevelopment agency grant paid for the survey, which was completed by the firm Millennium Advantage. The Older Adult Needs Assessment Report contains data from surveys distributed to 5,000 county seniors through senior-related sites in January and February. More than 1,000 surveys were returned. “I don’t think there were any surprises, it confirmed what those of us in the industry knew anecdotally,” said Candace Roeder, executive director of Seniors First, the county’s senior information and assistance provider. “I really think this is going to be a report widely used and referred to in years to come.” Roeder said that the facts gathered by the survey will help her and other agencies make a case for needs when applying for grants and appealing to private donors. One of those findings is that seniors know services exist for them, but are unable to take advantage of them. One in four seniors finds information on services to be confusing and filled with jargon, according to the report. Seniors also want services closer to where they live. Twenty percent of seniors say transportation issues or the location of services is a barrier to reaching them. On the subject of transportation, most seniors still drive their own cars, but public transportation presents challenges for many. Seventy percent of older adults have public transportation available, while most don’t use it, sometimes because of a lack of Sunday and evening service. “One of their concerns, many times, is transportation,” said Edith Wenzel, treasurer of the Multipurpose Senior Center board of directors, who attended the meeting Tuesday. “A lot of people have friends to take them, they’d prefer that to the bus. If I were to do something on the bus, it’d take the whole day and I’d have to transfer twice. A lot of us say, ‘No, we’re not going to do that.’” The report also found that seniors socialize frequently, but for some, health problems, lack of a companion and lack of information where listed as barriers to socializing. Older adults also want a wider array of activities available to them. “I talked to one lady who said, ‘I don’t knit. I don’t quilt. I don’t want to go to a senior center that has those kinds of classes,’” said Rebecca Moore, a consultant with Millennium Advantage who interviewed seniors for the study. “Just because they’re 70 doesn’t mean they’re going to change what they like to do.” The survey confirms the impact the baby boomers will have on changing perceptions of aging, said Eldon Luce, Health and Human Services program manger for the Adult System of Care, who was on the survey task force. “Those becoming seniors, the baby boomers, are not going to want the same things. They’re not going to want to sit and play bridge,” he said. “They’re more physically active, and as they move into their older adult years, they want to be doing the same things they’re doing now. Baby boomers are going to have a major impact on how older adult programs are developed.” Luce said one of the innovative things this survey did was ask older adults to project five years in the future and answer questions about their future needs. The issues of most concern to seniors in the future were having sufficient financial resources, having to live with a chronic illness and getting services to stay in their own home. “I think one of the things comes out in all surveys is seniors want to age in place, stay in their communities, stay in their homes, and not go into an institution,” Luce said. “The report also indicated that they hope to have services able to accompany that. It’s not a surprise for any of us, and reaffirmed the fact that people want to stay in their homes.” Ella Mae Gee, 88, echoes some of the worries expressed by seniors in the study. She attended the presentation of the report Tuesday. Gee, who has had knee and hip surgeries, lives alone and uses a scooter to move around. She’s had a walk-in bathtub and elevating lifts installed in her Woodside Village mobile park home so she can remain independent. “I’ve done everything I can to stay at home,” Gee said. “ Gee still wants to remain active, though. She still paints and plays bingo at her neighborhood’s clubhouse. The report suggests many strategies for helping seniors like Gee remain successful in the community. The study advises senior centers to adapt their programs for more adventurous baby boomers, adding wine-tasting clubs and more aggressive exercise programs. Developing easier to understand descriptions of services, computer classes to overcome the technology gap, evening and Sunday bus schedules and expanding home modification programs to help seniors live in their homes longer were some of the other suggestions arising from the study. Those new and expanded programs will cost money, something Luce said is hard to come by right now. “This couldn’t have come at a worse time (financially),” he said. “The report will still be valid into the future, when things get better financially.” The commission will hold two yet-to-be-scheduled community forums to present the information and solicit further feedback before looking at ways to implement the strategies suggested by the consultant, Luce said. “In general, Placer seniors are doing very well. They’re healthy and exercising,” Luce said. “But overall senior programming has to change if we’re going to meet the needs of current seniors and those who’ll be coming along soon.” The Journal’s Michelle Miller-Carl can be reached at michellem@goldcountrymedia.com. ---------- Placer County Seniors: A snapshot Data taken from the Older Adult Needs Assessment Report Community Resources 80 percent say they know services exist 42 percent say they are able to get/receive services Information is confusing to 1 in 4 seniors Most seniors learn about information from friends and family, the newspaper or Senior Information and Assistance 11 percent learn about services on the Internet Transportation 2 out of 3 older adults drive their own cars 1 in 5 rely on friends and relatives Social Activities 1 in 4 seniors say health conditions (of themselves or a spouse) are barriers to social activities No companion, lack of information, transportation or interest were some other barriers. Health & Safety 70 percent of seniors exercise regularly Future Needs & Issues Issues of most concern in 5 years: Having sufficient financial resources, having to live with a chronic illness, getting services to stay in own home. Housing Reflecting an influx of retirees from out of area, 68 percent of seniors have lived in their current community 10 years or less. 48 percent live alone Read the complete Older Adult Needs Assessment Report here