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How Community and Technology Help Rural Seniors

By Tanya Svoboda
May 2019

Senior homeowners in rural areas face challenges that their urban and suburban counterparts might never know. The blog, New Life On A Homestead shares that even though a combination of farmers markets and Amazon Prime makes life in the country much more convenient than it used to be – it’s still a long drive to the shops if you’ve run out of food and supplies.

A HUD article, Housing Challenges of Rural Seniors, tells us that having limited access to shops also contributes to the social isolation that many rural seniors contend with. This is especially true for seniors who are no longer driving and rely on public transportation to participate in their community since “rural areas are less likely than other places to have robust public transit systems.”

HUD reports that medical care can also be a concern since, “sparsely populated areas are less likely to have certain types of medical specialists and may be distant from a hospital. These challenges may cause seniors to delay needed health care, allowing their health to worsen before they finally seek care — sometimes under emergency circumstances.”

Lastly, the ability to maintain rural property can be difficult as owners age. New Life On Homestead writer, Tom Harkins, talks about the high level of maintenance that all rural property owners must contend with. “Something is always going wrong on a rural homestead; be prepared to identify a problem, and make repairs. Maintaining your land is time consuming, too.”

However, Harkins shares that one of the upsides to living in a rural area is that, “communities in rural areas tend to be more tight knit. Since there are typically less government services available, neighbors have to rely upon one another more.” This solid community involvement is one of the reasons that seniors are able to stay in their homes despite the challenges of rural living.

“Telehealth is an emerging medical solution that has the potential to help many rural, senior homeowners age in place healthily.”

Maine is one of the states that is leading the way with proactive, rural senior care – which makes sense since Maine has the nation’s third-largest percentage of older Americans. HUD’s article states that close to 16 percent of the state’s population are age 65 or older, and it’s the nation’s most rural state, with about 61 percent of its population living in rural areas.

Harpswell, Maine is a coastal town where a quarter of the residents are age 65 or older. They’ve put together an Aging at Home team that tackles the heavy maintenance rural residents require and senior homeowners have difficulty managing. The handy men and women are made up of retirees that dedicate their free time to helping seniors with upkeep. The group was inspired by the Aging in Place groups that Habitat for Humanity has put in place nationwide for low income seniors.

The town of Bowdoinham, Maine created the Bowdoinham Age-Friendly Action Plan in 2012. The community began by focusing on adult services, transportation and care partner support. The town’s Advisory Committee on Aging (ACOA) has been working to create programs that encourage older adults to be actively engaged and avoid the social isolation that makes life lonely for rural residents.

Telehealth is an emerging medical solution that has the potential to help many rural, senior homeowners age in place healthily. Telehealth allows for remote examinations, consultations and even in-home monitoring. Currently, three southeast hospitals are working with the University of Alabama to see if telehealth could even help to improve palliative care for rural African-Americans.


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