Issues arise as Haywood grays

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Apr 04, 2014
Photo by: Shelby Harrell Dennis Streets, director of the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services, gives a speech about aging in Haywood County while visiting the Haywood County Senior Resource Center.

One of the greatest challenges facing the nation today is adequately addressing the needs and healthcare demands of a growing and increasingly diverse aging population.

Statistics show that longer life spans in combination with aging baby boomers is expected to double the population of Americans aged 65 years or older during the next 25 years to about 72 million. By 2030, older adults will account for roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population.

In addition, more than 60 percent of older adults age 65 and older could be affected by more than one chronic condition such as diabetes mellitus, arthritis, congestive heart failure and dementia by the year 2030.

Yvonne Gold, program coordinator at the Haywood County Senior Resource Center, said currently there are 1,650 cases of Alzheimer’s disease reported in Haywood County, not including other dementia-related illnesses.

As the aging population flourishes, Haywood County residents have the opportunity to learn about the needs and outcomes of people going through the aging process — which is why officials like Dennis Streets, the director of the North Carolina Division of Aging and Adult Services, are taking steps to help spread the word.

The Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) works to promote independence and enhance the dignity of North Carolina's older adults, people with disabilities, and their families through a community-based system of opportunities, services, benefits, and protections. In addition, the division helps prepare younger generations for the future and offers insight to allow society and the government to plan and prepare for the changing demographics.

Streets visited Haywood County Senior Resource Center recently to discuss issues that affect thousands of local senior citizens each day.

The aging of North Carolina’s population is extremely significant, Streets said. Currently Haywood is one of 59 counties in which the population of people ages 60 and older outnumbers the children ages 17 and younger. Streets predicts that the number of N.C. counties with a higher 60+ population will increase to 89 by 2019.

Gold recognizes that Haywood’s population of senior citizens outnumbered other sections of demographics.

“What we’re seeing is the median age in Haywood County is getting higher and higher, with less young people per older adult,” Gold said. “The concern across the board and across the nation is, are there going to be enough working people to take care people aging?”

With the older adult population booming throughout the state, many services have had to cut back due to lack of funds, Streets said. Home-delivered meals routes are getting shorter, and some of the vital DAAS programs are putting a cap on enrolling new persons into services, even if a person leaves a service.

“What we’re seeing is less ability to reach out to and serve some people in the way they need service,” Streets said. “Many days when you walk the halls, you see the effects of good care, and you see the effects of not-so good-care. …These are difficult times, which makes it even more important that we work smart and we work with as many partners as we can whether it’s public or private.”

Streets said currently 14,000 people were on the waiting list for home delivered meals programs, for in home aid, and for adult aid services.

“These are services that are vital to keep people in the community,” he said, adding that the average age of an individual needing these services is 80 years old. “We know about half the folks we serve live alone, and we know a number of them are in rural areas. This is a population that’s very socially and economically needy.”

Gold echoed Street’s sentiments, adding that more federal funding seemed to be directed toward nursing home care rather than in-home services.

“The government can’t meet the needs anymore,” Gold said. “If we can keep people out of nursing homes, it would be more cost effective, yet the money seems to be allocated more toward nursing homes rather meals on wheels and in home aide.”

Streets said many senior citizens need these services from the DAAS because they are not eligible for Medicaid.

“We’re serving people who are ‘near poor’ — which is a group who has enough income to not be eligible for Medicaid, but who don’t have enough income to pay for those services themselves,” Streets said.

Abuse a concern

Another issue, Streets said, has been the increase in reports of elderly abuse, neglect and exploitation.

“Occurrences of abuse and neglect is beyond what we all might think, unfortunately,” Streets said. “These are sometimes families who are so stressed with their own economic situation that they can’t adequately respond.”

Though some older adults are reluctant or too proud to use the services, Streets said everyone should encourage those in need to utilize these services because they are funded by taxpayer dollars.

“A lot of times what we see in adult protective services is reports of self neglect about people who live alone,” he said. “Because of physical frailty, dementia, depression, or because of substance abuse, they find themselves in predicament cant get out of. It is really up to all of us to sort of rectify the situations and reach out and make sure reassure them that it’s alright to receive assistance.

“I applaud seniors for trying to be as self reliant as possible, but there does come a time for all of us when we need a helping hand,” Streets added.

Gold said Haywood County was fortunate to have senior leadership teams and programs that offer support and assistance to older adults through volunteering.

“We’re fortunate to have a lot of good resources in Haywood County — unfortunately some of them have waiting lists, and there’s not enough money make services available everybody,” Gould said. “That’s why the work our volunteers do is so important. If someone needs a ride, we put the word out take someone to take them to the doctor or get groceries. That helps a lot.”

Facts about Haywood’s aging population

Data collected in 2012

29.9 percent of population is age 60 or older

By 2032, the population of ages 60 and older is expected to increase to 35.6 percent

27.1 percent of the population ages 65 and older live alone

32.7 percent of the population age 65 and older has a high school diploma or the equivalency

12.3 percent of the population age 65 and older has a bachelor’s degree

26.4 percent of population age 65 and older is a U.S. veteran

26 percent of the population age 65 and older is living in 100-199 percent of the poverty level

34 percent of the population age 75 and older is living in 100-199 percent of the poverty level