Snapshot of a Graying RegionMar 15th, 2012 | By Mike Morris | Category: Safe, Sound and Savvy
Most foothill boomers and seniors are happy despite worries about money and health care, a new survey shows.
More than three-quarters of those age 65-74 say they are happy, as do more than 70 percent of those over 80.
But only half those in the 50-54 age group report leading happy lives – of those, 37 percent say they’re only “getting by” and 13 percent admit they are unhappy.
The general contentment revealed by the survey does not mean area seniors are trouble free. The top concern: having enough money to live on.
Other key issues: paying for health care, dental work and prescriptions, making home repairs, and being able to continue driving. Many seniors worry that taking care of themselves and their homes may become difficult or impossible in the next three or four years.
Social Security, pensions, savings and investments are the main sources of income. Medicare is their most common health insurance, and arthritis is the region’s most pervasive health problem, with 40 percent affected.
Commissioned for $28,750, the survey – required by the state every four years – was conducted in 2011 by Decisionwise of Provo, Utah, for the Area 12 Agency on Aging.
The Sonora-based agency will use the survey results to decide which programs to offer in the coming years, and to draw new funding to meet the most pressing needs of the region’s elderly.
“The rate the senior population is growing, and the lack of funds to meet those needs, is the biggest problem we have,” says Pauline White, Area 12’s executive director. “We use this to put our money in the right spot, based on data-driven decisions.”
Established in 1988, Area 12 provides services to 11,000 of the nearly 49,000 seniors in Tuolumne, Calaveras, Amador, Alpine and Mariposa counties. Governed by a Joint Powers Authority, it is one of 33 such agencies in the state and 675 nationwide, has a $2.4 million budget of mostly federal funds, and employs a staff of 15.
In all, 1,410 respondents completed the 45-question survey, more than three times the number who participated in Area 12’s 2008 survey.
Thirty-two percent of those responding live in Tuolumne County, with lesser amounts in Amador (30 percent), Calaveras (20), Mariposa (16) and Stanislaus (2, residents of the Area 12-covered Don Pedro area).
Although sparsely populated Alpine County is in Area 12’s territory, survey forms sent to Markleeville were never distributed because of “miscommunication,” says White. Neighboring counties’ results will be used to determine which programs to offer Alpine seniors.
Nearly 70 percent of survey respondents are women and half those who answered are married. Three-fourths are retired, while the rest are working, disabled, or seeking work. Two-thirds have some college education, with a third earning a bachelor’s degree or higher. Half have paid off their homes, while 26 percent pay mortgages and 21 percent rent, the survey found.
Those who answered ranged from 47 to 85 and older. That eldest group accounted for about 15 percent of all respondents.
Finding help with home repairs is the main concern in Calaveras and Mariposa counties, the survey found. Paying for dental care is a key issue in Tuolumne County, and being able to continue driving worries many in Amador County.
Most respondents throughout the survey region say transportation is not always available, or is too difficult to obtain.
As baby boomers age, Area 12’s constituency continues to grow in this already gray region, where more than half the residents are 45 or older. Those 60 and older now number about 33 percent of Tuolumne County’s population, and 35 percent of Calaveras County’s population, compared to 16 percent statewide.
According to a California Department of Finance 2011 estimate, 18,317 people 60 and older live in Tuolumne County and 15,663 in Calaveras County. (A 2010 census summary shows the 60-plus population in Amador County as 11,256; Mariposa County, 5,411; and Alpine County, 276.)
By 2020, seniors will comprise about 36 percent of the region’s population, the state’s departments of finance and aging project – but Calaveras County, for example, may see a much higher figure given its present percentage.
State cuts of programs for seniors, White says, have created higher demand for services, while Area 12’s budget and staff has been reduced, with cuts to two key programs in recent years.
“It’s a big challenge – the needs are exceeding the dollars,” she says. “We have to constantly reassess and partner with other stakeholders in the community.”
Prior survey results
Providing free minor home repairs and help with utility-bill payment programs are among ways the agency helps. This leaves clients with more money for medications and groceries and other day-to-day expenditures, says Kristin Millhoff, the agency’s assistant director.
The agency’s Minor Home Repair Program started more than two years ago as a result of the 2008 survey, White says. Those answering the new survey report having difficulty with home repairs, maintenance and heavy housework. Family members help with these jobs, but 58 percent are not paid.
Those who live in their own homes and are over 60 could be eligible for the repair program, which fixes problems such as leaky toilets and installs safety items such as grab bars.
Another of Area 12′s programs supports caregivers, and more than 80 answered 15 questions specifically tailored to them in the 2011 survey. Most are caring for a family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child –most for at least 20 hours a week.
Darlene Pennel, who takes care of her 76-year-old husband, says Area 12′s Family Caregiver Support Program has helped her. She gets supplies, attended a caregiver seminar, and a professional care provider comes to her house twice a week to help her husband.
“And they offer a lot of moral support,” adds the 70-year-old Groveland woman.
Area 12 also sponsors “Lunch and Learn” sessions in which caregivers get information on issues of concern, including in-home care, legal problems, finances, and dealing with dementia. And, it offers free “caregiver tool kits” with essential information.
Public hearing planned
The new survey, required under rules set by the California Department of Aging, was commissioned last year, and paid for over two years, White says.
“We narrowed the list to three and chose Decisionwise, which conducted our 2008 survey,” says White. “The firm has been very involved in the process, provided great service, and its price was competitive.”
The agency is using the new data to prepare its Area Plan, due in May, outlining programs and services the agency intends to fund through 2015. A public hearing will be held in Sonora in early April to receive community comment.
“We use the survey as a road map of what we are going to do – our goals and objectives,” White says.
Area 12 connected with commissions on aging, veterans groups, senior centers, county governments, community groups, and media outlets to get the word on the survey out.
Copies of the 82-page survey report are available free by calling Area 12 at (209) 532-6272.
“We’d like everyone to have a copy,” says White. “Anyone involved with seniors will find it valuable.”
Chris Bateman contributed to this report.
Survey questions directed specifically at baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – who have not retired found that:
- 41 percent feel their standard of living will worsen after retirement, and 86 percent are worried about not having enough money.
- 63 percent think they will need to work after retirement; nearly as many say they would like to work at least part time after retiring.
- More than half are concerned about poor health as they age, and a quarter are worried they won’t be able to afford needed medical care.
- 22 percent are concerned about higher costs and inflation, 20 percent worry about housing and 18 percent fear being unable to care for themselves.
- Surprisingly, the group with the highest percentage of people who say they forget things completely is age 55-59.
© 2012 Friends and Neighbors Magazine