Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

Rural Aging, Women, Faith in Action, and Fertilizer of the Vertical Kind

Academic journal article International Journal of Humanities and Peace

Rural Aging, Women, Faith in Action, and Fertilizer of the Vertical Kind

Article excerpt

It's no secret that we have the privilege of living at a time in history when people are living longer and longer lives. This article discusses the issues facing rural communities and older women in terms of accessing health and human services. An innovative model for rural community eldercare is discussed and then followed up with comment from an Americorp VISTA volunteer currently serving in rural Arizona.

Demographics of Arizona's Rural Elders

In the United States, between 1990 and 2000, the elderly population (age 65+) increased by 12% while in Arizona it increased by 40% (Arizona Department of Economic Security, Summer 2001). According to the most recent census, 13.2 % of the population in Arizona is 65 and older. Those eiders age 85+ are the fastest growing segment of the population, increasing by 82% over the last decade (Arizona Department of Economic Security, 2001). Women account for 58% of the population age 65 and older and 70% of the population age 85 and older (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000).

The growth of rural elder populations lags behind growth in urban areas in general. Nevertheless, there are "fertile retirement pockets" in rural communities where percentages swell to 30-43% (Northern Arizona Council Of Governments, 1995; Department of Economic Security, 1999). While this is a good thing in that elders bring a wealth of knowledge, skills, and service commitment to the community, it also presents challenges in terms of meeting a growing need for health care, emergency facilities, and home and community-based services.

Many people retire to the rural community because the "living is easy" and the "price is right". In just a few years they find their expenses rising, their health deteriorating and their family support system thousands of miles away. Indigenous rural elder families that have "aged in place" are facing similar situations due to lower social security benefits, widowhood, and urban "flight" of younger generations. An analysis of intake data for those utilizing community-based services in four Arizona rural counties shows that 72 percent of elders needing assistance are female, over age 70, and living alone on a fixed income. Twenty-five percent receive as little as $250-500 dollars a month and have little or no social support system. Sixty percent of those served overall report having trouble meeting their basic expenses.

According to the USDA Economic Research Service (2000) two-thirds of all women 60 and older have household incomes under $10,000. These low-income elders are unable to afford and access the health care needed as they increase in age. Finding a primary care physician in the rural area that accepts Medicare independent of expensive supplementary insurance policies can be a daunting task. If one is fortunate enough to find a doctor, then affordable transportation to medical appointments becomes an ongoing problem for many with regional hospitals located up to 40 miles away and specialists treating specific chronic conditions located 90 miles away. There is no public transportation in the rural counties of Arizona. Moreover, assisted living and supervisory care options are both limited and cost prohibitive, too often forcing premature institutionalization when an older person's health begins to decline.

The Problem That Has No Name

The population of older adults age 65+ is projected to continue to increase at a rate of 1.3 percent annually until 2010, and then to rapidly begin increasing annually by 2.8 percent between 2010 and 2030 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). These projections have resulted in growing concern among health care providers and policy makers, since older adults use a disproportionate amount of health care services. While current healthcare costs are difficult to obtain, Torrez (1997) reports that in 1987 older adults represented 12.3 percent of the population, and accounted for 36 percent of the total health care expenditure. …

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