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The Crisis of Rural Aging

Leigh Ann Hubbard July 23, 2018

With its farmers, makers and tight-knit neighbors, rural communities have long been called the backbone of America. But as people flock to cities, these communities are shrinking. And older people are being left behind.

Aging in rural America means facing distinct obstacles—including a lack of easily accessible health care, public transportation and modern technological infrastructure. However, local governments and nonprofits are starting to employ some creative solutions.

If you work in a rural area, what do you think older people need most? And how can our field do more to serve them? Tell us below.

Headlines & Insights
Curated excerpts from though-provoking articles.

Mobile Food Banks Roll Through Rural US Transforming Food Deserts
The Christian Science Monitor / Elaine S. Povich

The truck is the West Alabama Food Bank’s mobile pantry. Its cargo includes some 5,000 pounds of food – boxes of bread, fruits, vegetables, drinks, and pastries that it will deliver to dozens of people in rural Alabama, many of them poor, aging, or disabled…

Food pantries and soup kitchens tend to be in densely populated cities, where they can draw a lot of people. That model doesn’t work in rural counties, where settlement is sparse.

Counties with the highest rates of “food insecurity,” where people don’t have enough access to affordable, nutritious food, are disproportionately rural.

Rural America Faces Shortage of Physicians to Care for Rapidly Aging Population
Aging Today / Janis Orlowski and Michael Dill

It is a common enough tale. A concerned daughter needs to find a new primary care physician for her parents. They live in rural Wisconsin, two hours west of Green Bay… After an exhaustive search, she finds there are no physicians with availability near them, despite the fact that they have excellent insurance coverage. The closest physician she can find is two to three hours away in Milwaukee…

Lest any of us think that we might have been more successful, the distraught daughter in question is one of this article’s authors: a physician, chief health care officer at the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and former chief medical officer of a major health system and medical school executive dean.

As Rural America Faces an Onslaught of Alzheimer’s Disease, States Look to Radical Ways to Help
Newsweek / Jessica Wapner

Distance, poverty and lack of access to health care providers make it increasingly difficult for [rural] caregivers to help those with dementia. As a result, they carry a heavier load, with the psychological isolation compounded by a physical one…

But New York has a radical plan to save the caregivers by helping them take a break. Or have a shower. Or run errands. Or maybe just nap. The state has dedicated $62.5 million over five years to support caregivers. And New York is not alone in its epiphany. Such state-funded programs have cropped up across the country, particularly in rural states, such as North Dakota, Minnesota and North Carolina. Together, these initiatives could save billions of dollars.

How The ‘Village Movement’ Is Being Adapted in Rural Areas
All Things Considered / Ina Jaffe

Members of [the Plumas County village] Community Connections get credits for helping each other. Then when they need some help themselves, they draw on those credits. It’s a model known as a time bank… [A]round here, keeping seniors living independently isn’t just a matter of what they want. It’s almost the only option.

Rural Aging in America: Proceedings of the 2017 Connectivity Summit
Population Health Management / Alexis Skoufalos, Janice L. Clarke, Dana Rose Ellis, Vicki L. Shepard and Elizabeth Y. Rula

Despite their considerable challenges, rural communities have strengths that can be leveraged to improve the well-being of their residents. Although the Gallup-Sharecare Well-Being Index showed a significant overall deficit in well-being for rural-dwelling older adults versus their urban counterparts, it revealed relatively higher community well-being (pride in the community, feelings of safety and security) and a stronger sense of purpose among rural residents.


This story was originally published on March 21, 2018. 
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Leigh Ann Hubbard

Leigh Ann Hubbard is a freelance journalist specializing in aging, health, the American South and Alaska.

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