The good news for and about senior citizens is that there are a lot of us, both in raw numbers and as a proportion of the population. That trend began a couple of centuries ago, accelerated in the 20th century, and will continue for several years until the last of the baby boomers join the ranks of us old folks.
Reasons for the growing numbers of seniors are many, including better nutrition, better sanitation, immunization against deadly diseases, antibiotics and other life-saving medicines and other revolutionary developments in health care. The knowledge and skills of today's physicians, medical scientists and other health care professionals could not even be imagined by my country doctor of 1950.
So, our numbers grow. And that's good news? Yes, because we seniors really do make the world go around. Seniors are the volunteers necessary for churches, hospitals, civic groups, libraries, Daughters of the American Revolution, Sons of the American Revolution, veterans' organizations, fundraising committees and so forth. Countless seniors are raising or helping to raise their grandchildren, even great-grandchildren, sometimes as the only parents those children really know. As an aside, parenting is a challenge for older people who are living on fixed incomes and dwindling physical resources. They are the primary caregivers for spouses and other family members who have Alzheimer's and many other disabilities. Yes, it is good news that there are seniors to hold together families and community institutions.
Seniors are doing much better than they might have because of helpful federal laws and policies. As the country urbanized, the extended family system - based on its farming past - dissolved, and the elders lost their position and support. As early as 1920, the federal government established retirement for civil service employees. It followed with the Social Security Act in 1936, later adding medical insurance (Medicare) for those aged 65 and older or disabled. Job protection came with the Age Discrimination Act of 1967.
Concern about lack of community services for older persons led to the Older Americans Act of 1965, which provided for a variety of services at the local level. In 1973, Area Agencies on Aging were established to direct these programs. The states became involved in funding and program development. Community senior centers were established, usually with support from their respective counties and cities. The Older Americans Act was reauthorized with bipartisan support earlier this year.
The Area Agency on Aging that serves Bulloch County operates under the umbrella of the Coastal Regional Commission, now headquartered in McIntosh County. A member of the Bulloch County Board of Commissioners holds a seat on the CRC, and three representatives from Bulloch County serve on the AAA advisory council. Some of the services administered by the AAA are delivered at the site of the local senior center, located at 516 Denmark St., but it also hosts other activities, often generated by the seniors themselves.
The first mission of the AAA is to provide information and assistance through a toll-free phone number, (1-800) 580-6860. Perhaps the best known service are nutritious, home-delivered meals (aka Meals on Wheels) and congregate meals at the senior center. There are wellness programs on such ongoing conditions as arthritis and balance problems, which threaten injury and disability. There is help for caregivers, including a respite program that frees them briefly from the heartbreaking burden of care. Those facing long-term institutional care for themselves or loved ones can get counseling on options open to them.
The AAA gets limited funding to help seniors remain in their homes and communities, a far less expensive and more preferred option than institutional placement. In addition to the meals noted earlier, they might be able to get limited homemaker assistance or personal care or adult day care.
This is only a partial list of services that make life more livable for seniors. There is always a waiting list for those who need the help. The economy, weak for almost a decade, has reduced federal and state funding even while the elderly population grew in this region and throughout the country. The AAA staff has sought and found additional support through grants and local contributions to keep its services viable and even do new things that were obviously needed. Kudos to Dionne Lovett, director of the AAA, and to Allen Burns, director of the Coastal Regional Commission and former student of this writer at Georgia Southern.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.