By Curt Woodward, Associated Press Writer
Seniors are relying more on each other to keep living
at home and they're getting help to tap into a wide range of programs for
the day-to-day assistance they need to avoid moving to a nursing home.
In Robinson, that includes taking turns as a chauffeur
to get friends to the senior center for meals or gathering them for a bus
"We've had people that have had cancer and the
whole town offers to drive them around," said Mary Lou Hanson, the
center's manager. "It's a pretty close-knit community."
In Traverse County, Minn., a clutch of rural farm
communities where more than a quarter of the 4,100 or so residents are
older than 65, a "phone mate" program pairs the elderly or
disabled to check on each other at a prescribed time each day. Volunteers
also home-deliver meals or drive older people to see a medical specialist.
Across the country, the need for such community safety
nets is expected to climb significantly in coming years. By 2050, census
figures show 5 percent of the country will be 85 or older, compared with
1.5 percent now.
Robinson, a community of about 70, sits amid miles of
farmland in central
Helping each other
Many residents, such as 93-year-old widow Emilia
Randall, wouldn't live anywhere else. She has lived in Robinson since
1968, when she moved off of the family farm.
"I call this God's country," she said.
"The great wide open spaces -- it's beautiful."
But to stay here, Randall and her friends need help,
particularly if they no longer have a spouse.
More than 30,000 women in
A low-income, eight-unit apartment building owned by
82-year-old Elsie Whitman is home to her and four other single women who
look after each other, get together for regular card games and move in a
pack from home to the senior center for meals.
Without that community of neighbors to rely on,
"they'd have to be in nursing homes," Hanson, of the senior
Even Randall drives other seniors to errands at the
grocery store, the post office, around town or even to the mall or movie
Networks of family and friends lend so much unpaid help
to the elderly or people with disabilities that losing their services
"would break the Medicaid and Medicare system very quickly,"
said Cherry Schmidt, a regional administrator for the state's aging
A recent study by the National Family Caregivers Assn.
said more than 27 million people, usually family members, act as
caregivers for others. The group said the market value of those unpaid
services is about $257 billion each year.
Volunteers getting older
In rural areas, where the population often is older,
residents sometimes find themselves separated from relatives living in the
city. That presents an extra challenge for caregivers.
"A great many people who are caregivers are people
who might need the services of a caregiver themselves," said Andrew
Zovko, a director at the caregivers association. "Certainly, an
elderly person caring for another elderly person is a common
And it's a situation that presents its own problems.
"Our volunteers are getting older and more
frail," said Evie Rinke, an aging programs coordinator for
With elderly people and younger children making up a
large portion of the county's population, "it doesn't leave a whole
lot of us in that middle area to provide a lot of care for the
elderly," Rinke said.
Funding for programs
Pat Randall, Emilia's daughter-in-law and the director
of Senior Services for Emmons and Kidder counties in
"It's like our state legislators are having a hard
time understanding that we need to increase the funding to match the needs
of the people," Randall said. "If there's more elderly and
there's less money, what are you going to do?"
'Feel more at home here'
As Randall ate lunch with a group of women at the
senior center in Tuttle, 78-year-old Rachel Wolff recalled that a doctor
was puzzled by her decision to move to the small town when she decided to
leave the family farm.
"He said, 'How come you moved to Tuttle? Why
didn't you move to
Anita Wagner, 77, answered for her: "You feel more at home here."