By DONNA RYDER
As the population in Tennessee continues to age and more Baby Boomers are in need of elderly support, state officials want to do all they can to help.
Finding out just what is needed by that segment of the population was the purpose of the gathering of senior citizens and state officials from multiple counties in northwest Tennessee Tuesday in Union City. Similar listening tour meetings will be held across the state in the coming weeks.
Employees of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, as well as its executive director Jim Shulman, were on hand to discuss different topics and find out what is most pressing for senior citizens here.
Shulman told The Messenger his office is trying to find out what services and programs are lacking so they can get those programs where they are needed.
Reliable transportation, he said, has been a problem for years in Tennessee, especially in rural areas. It was a topic brought up by several people who attended the event. “If they don’t have access or don’t drive, they have trouble getting to the doctor and to the store,” he said.
Seniors were asked to attend the listening tour to talk about health, aging and independence, letting state officials know what is needed to help them. Moderators listened as the senior citizens and those in charge of local programs for them shared their thoughts on seven different topics, including staying healthy while aging; health and wellness; caregiving; independence and getting services easily; housing, neighborhoods and safe communities; staying connected and involved in the community; and working with older adults and people with disabilities.
Shulman said the results of the surveys senior citizens were asked to answer, as well as topics brought out in the open-forum sessions, will be reported to the federal government. They will also be taken to Nashville, where the Commission on Aging and Disability will use them as a guide for making policies and to try to figure out how to come up with those services where they are lacking.
Following the session, Shulman addressed the seniors about what had been discussed in their groups and asked them if they know about programs available to them. He suggested his office could do a better job of networking with senior facilities by offering programs where experts from his office visit the local level.
“Maybe we need to do a better job of coordinating with senior center directors, so you have a chance to learn,” he said, adding, “We are here to help.”
When questioned by Obion County Senior Citizens Center director Margaret Cook about waiting lists for respite care, Schulman said his staff is already working to figure out what is causing there to be waiting lists and how to decrease those lists.
“A lot of Baby Boomers are just turning 65. If we can’t fix it now, we will have a bigger problem,” he said.
Shulman told the seniors his office will focus on the data gathered at the meetings and try to figure out how to offer those programs with the same or fewer resources. “From what we are hearing, we feel the economy is starting to pick back up. That’s good, but it’s been a while and we may end up with less money from the federal government. We’re not counting on additional resources, except what we come up with on our own,” he said, adding “If we can do more with less, that is where we are headed.”
Shulman encouraged senior citizens and their caregivers to reach out to his department. In the northwest Tennessee area, residents can call the Northwest Area Agency on Aging and Disability located in Weakley County, where Susan Hill is director, at (731) 587-4023. Counties included in that area are Weakley, Obion, Lake, Gibson, Dyer, Henry, Crockett, Carroll and Benton. The state-wide, toll-free number is 1-866-836-6678. For Medicare specific questions, residents should call 1-877-801-0044. Schulman said the state is operating under a “No Wrong Door” approach and, instead of getting the run-around, state employees are trying to get callers to the correct departments so they can get answers to their questions.
At the meeting, seniors learned their survey answers show they are more concerned about keeping themselves healthy through exercise and eating right; having access to affordable dental, hearing and eye exams and eyeglasses; not having enough insurance or money for doctors visits and medications; having access to respite care services; and getting help quickly without hassle. They were least concerned about alcohol and drug abuse or getting accurate information from websites.
Tags: aging baby boomers aging in place baby boomer needs donna ryder
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