The elderly often end up segregated from the community – instead we should embrace their experience and desire to contribute
by Michael Holton, email@example.com, Center for Rural Affairs
Last month we looked at the assets seniors bring to small rural communities and how we don’t use their skills and experience in meaningful ways to help our communities grow. Let’s look at some demographic trends to bring the picture into clearer focus.
Currently, over 70 percent of the nation’s counties are considered non-metropolitan. While the definition of rural includes towns of 2,500 or less, remember we have over 15,000 communities in our country this size. And over 25 percent of all older people in the United States live in or around them. More than a quarter of elderly Americans reside in rural areas.
The Midwest is home to a good portion of settled seniors. Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska have upwards of 20 percent or more senior residents. Another factor to consider, the population base of senior citizens continues to grow and does not appear to be anywhere close to stabilizing yet.
What does this mean in terms of how we work in community development? With rural areas suffering depopulation of all ages, health care becomes an issue for seniors. When economically the community begins to lose health care facilities, pharmacies, doctors, dentists, and other providers, the real victims become the increasing population force of senior citizens.
Much like youth, we often fall into the trap of trying to figure out what we can do for the senior population. What we really need instead is open dialogue. Rather than building senior citizen housing, assisted living facilities, hospice care, and more senior citizen centers to segregate our most prized assets, why don’t we ask them what they would like to see done?
More often than not, the biggest request from the elderly is a wish to contribute to the community in a meaningful way rather than to be segregated. Through years of experience, they have answers to all sorts of community problems. As we advocate for our communities and their survival for the future, let’s ask the people who live in the communities what that survival may look like!
Agree? Disagree? Post a comment here or contact John Crabtree, firstname.lastname@example.org
Center for Rural Affairs
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