Text by Joanne M. Anderson
The first Baby Boomers reluctantly experienced their 65th birthdays five years ago, and this large generation is expected to live longer than any other. Longevity can be partially attributed to improved medical care, drugs, fitness and nutrition. Average life expectancy is close to 80, which is half a century more than life at the founding of our country. Average life in the U.S. in 1776 was just 30. My, we have come a long way.
Among the medical challenges of this aging population are heart disease, arthritis, diabetes, hearing and sight issues, cancer, senility, obesity and chronic illness. Other issues include housing, finances, caregiving, transportation and healthy lifestyles, the latter receiving more attention than in days of yore. Prevention and wellness have become center stage topics at middle age, in an effort to experience senior years which are not so fraught with illness and disease.
Not only was there no Internet for information back in 1776, but also here in our region, there was no New River Valley Agency on Aging to turn to for help, resources and referrals. Established in 1975, this organization offers a plethora of programs and services which help oldsters throughout the NRV. Its mission is:
to support and enhance the lives of older adults, their families and caregivers
through advocacy, information and services.
Most of the funding comes from the federal government’s Older Americans Act, and contributions from individuals, grants, fees and the Virginia General Assembly assist in supporting its efforts. On the up side, many seniors do enjoy good health and now have the time and inclination to volunteer. “Older adults are contributing more than ever to their communities,” states executive director Tina King. “Because of this, there is a growth in the need to find volunteer opportunities.”
The senior population over 65 in Virginia is projected to rise to 25 percent in less than 10 years. Some 2 million men and women will fall into this age group state-wide, and several will need assistance. According to program director Cassie Mills, the number of NRV residents age 65 and older is expected to double by the year 2030, with nearly one in four older persons above 65 in Giles and Pulaski counties. “The percentage of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years,” she adds.
Among the most common needs in the NRV are transportation, food services, home modification and repair and housing. “We have very limited family help. Before receiving services from the Agency on Aging, we depended on my husband’s elderly mother (who is in her late 90s) to walk to a grocery store. We did not see a doctor regularly. Now we use the agency for transportation to doctor appointments, and home delivered meals provide our main source of nutrition as well as a safety check from the driver,” relates Mr. and Mrs. T. of Giles County.
Margaret cares for her husband in Pulaski County. He has Alzheimer’s disease, and she writes: “Not knowing what help is out there or how to go about getting it was a big concern until I talked to your staff. It’s nice to know there is help in my time of need.”
It seems like in an age of cell phones and the Internet that the senior population might not be isolated, but it is not always the case. “The rural nature of the New River Valley can be a barrier,” Mills explains. “There are still some pockets in the NRV where cell service and WiFi are not available, and affordability can be an issue.”
The Agency on Aging can help with legal services, care coordination including respite care, homemaker services, congregate and home-delivered meals and more. It has information on Medicare, aging in place, volunteer opportunities, counseling, advocacy and elder abuse concerns. Its services and resource referrals are wide-reaching, and there’s a measure of comfort in the interest, dedication and commitment of the staff to the senior population throughout the NRV.
New River Valley Agency on Aging
141 East Main Street, Suite 500, Pulaski
(540) 980-7720 | 1-866-260-4417