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Knoxville Regional
Transportation Planning Organization

400 Main St, Suite 403
Knoxville, TN 37902

phone: (865) 215-2500
fax: (865) 215-2068

PlanET Perspectives:

Meeting the Needs of Seniors in Our Region

By Susan Long
CAC Office on Aging
Posted 11/21/2013

Today’s seniors are living longer, healthier lives than any previous generation. On January 1, 2011, a new trend began in the United States with 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 65 each day. This trend will continue until the year 2029! Our region has begun to feel the effects of this “silver tsunami” in many areas, including health care services, jobs, access to meals, housing, and transportation options. Comprehensive planning for increased services is critical to meet the needs of this rapidly growing segment of our population.

The number of senior citizens age 60 and older in the five counties covered by PlanET has increased to 145,200 seniors, an amazing jump of more than 31 percent between the years 2000 and 2010. Some seniors in our region are financially secure, but retirement is not “golden” for many in the East TN area. According to the National Council on Aging, many seniors are economically insecure – living at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level – and struggling with rising healthcare bills, housing costs, inadequate nutrition, decreased savings, and lack of access to transportation. When seniors have health and financial struggles and no family safety net, they find themselves making hard decisions about paying for utilities, rent, food, prescription drugs, and other necessities. Some of them end up becoming homeless – a very new phenomenon among seniors. From January 1, 2012, through March 31, 2013, 546 seniors (ages 60 and older) used homeless services in Knox County, with 205 of them having overnight shelter stays. Agencies like the CAC Office on Aging are receiving more referrals for case management, emergency assistance and help with re-housing.

Healthy Aging
Good health often ensures independence and security for seniors as they grow older, but many older adults struggle with multiple health challenges. Many suffer from chronic illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. A new evidenced-based program developed by Stanford University called “Living Well with Chronic Conditions” is being offered to seniors and caregivers in the East Tennessee area by the East TN Area Agency on Aging to help them manage their conditions and improve their health. Other challenges include the need to educate seniors about methods to prevent falls – a top cause of injury and death among seniors – as well as greater access to mental health and substance abuse treatment for seniors.

Meals and Nutrition
In Knox County alone, there has been a 34.1 percent increase in the over-80 population in the past 10 years. This trend can also be found throughout East Tennessee. Research shows that from ages 83 to 85, many seniors show a marked decrease in their ability to accomplish activities of daily life (ADL) that include walking, driving, shopping and preparing food, personal care and hygiene, and maintaining a clean home. The inability of seniors to prepare meals and maintain proper nutritional requirements often leads to further health problems and the eventual need for institutional care. Better alternatives are available that help keep individuals in their own homes and provide a daily safety check by volunteers. “Meals on Wheels” programs (or “Mobile Meals,” as the program is called in Knox County) deliver hot, nutritional meals to seniors on a daily basis. The local Mobile Meals program currently has a waiting list of 82 individuals. These programs need adequate funding to meet the need of the ever-growing elderly population in East Tennessee.

New research shows that most senior adults outlive their ability to drive by 7 to 8 years. Taking the keys away from a senior is one of the most painful acts that a family may face. Public transportation options must be developed in order for seniors to access medical appointments, therapy, pharmacies, grocery stores and other essential errands. Knox County CAC Volunteer Assisted Transportation has been an important step toward providing transportation services to seniors who need assistance with social as well as essential errands plus a volunteer to accompany them, as needed. This program is being studied in nearby counties.

Developing affordable and accessible housing for adults as they age is a huge challenge. Independent Living facilities, Assisted Living, and Memory Care housing are all possibilities for older adults who no longer want or are unable to live in their own homes. These facilities can provide positive activities and opportunities to learn and socialize that are conducive to good health, but our area seniors continue to prefer the opportunity to age in place – that is, remaining in one’s own home with formal and informal care and services brought in as needed.

Over the next decade, many seniors will choose to delay retirement or to re-enter the workforce. This may require an increased number of programs to assess individuals’ skills and access to affordable, high quality job training opportunities at universities, technical schools, community colleges and other schools in the region.

Seniors enrich our lives every day with their wealth of experiences and knowledge. Twenty percent of our state’s population will be over 65 by 2020. The East Tennessee region must work to prepare for the increasing number of seniors who are retiring daily – and who will challenge communities to meet their wide-ranging needs.

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Copyright 2013 by Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission
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