At any given time, most seniors are getting along well. At some point in time, however, all seniors will have problems and need help, but few can afford all the help they need.
Coping with ill health and disabilities begins at home. Seniors are happier, even healthier, when they can remain in their homes. Further, it is much cheaper than living in an institutional setting, but it is not easy. Day-to-day living, maintaining a house and yard, paying bills and buying necessary food and clothing - all of these pose challenges that grow as disabilities deepen. As long as they are part of a couple, they can work together and lean on one another, but the loss of one undercuts the welfare of the other. So, anything that helps them stay at home is important.
Help can take the form of light housework, mowing the lawn, replacing a light bulb, changing the filter in the air conditioning or rolling out the garbage. Bring in a meal. Drop off some fresh fruit. Develop a telephone reassurance plan, which only takes a few people. Take time to make a real visit, which is heartwarming and can allow the visitor detect developing problems in time to fix them.
Who can do these things? Well, most anybody - family and friends, of course, but these would make great community service projects for Scouts, fraternities and sororities; they would provide some important learning experiences in relevant academic programs. It goes without saying, but I will say it again - churches and civic organizations can also be invaluable in offering help to seniors.
Oh, and about the garbage - local governments could give us a hand with this. Those of us with handicaps have trouble wrestling with our rolling garbage cans. Mine, like many others, is beat up, the plastic wheels scoured out around the axle. It flops and darts and sometimes puts me on the ground. It would help if sanitation workers would roll these things to the street and back for disabled citizens. Yes, I know that would take time and money, but we pay taxes, and mine are going up this year (reassessment), as are water fees.
Help is needed with paper. It comes in the mail, in rolls of advertising circulars and in newspapers. Like many other seniors, I recycle everything that the center will take, but keeping the paper properly sorted and then delivered is a chore, sometimes a taxing one. It is too bad that street-side recycling is no longer available.
"Important" paper is a different problem. Sooner or later, personal and official correspondence - along with various records - have to be purged. Forget small shredders that clog and stall. What is needed is access to heavy-duty shredders. Occasionally, one comes to town for a day or half a day, but getting there on the right day at the right time is not always possible. Solutions? Bring in the shredder more often. Or let the county buy such a shredder and use it in its recycling program. Banks and other businesses that have commercial-strength shredders might schedule times for their clients to bring in their documents and correspondence as a special customer service. Or I can continue to haul this material to my burn barrel in another county.
Transportation is a persistent problem area. Statesboro is rich with opportunities for all of its people: music, drama, sports. There is good stuff happening all the time at the Averitt Center for the Arts; Bulloch County Historical Society meetings; Georgia Southern's Performing Arts Center, museum and all of its sports venues; school stadiums and gyms; and Mill Creek Park.
There is no simple solution to the problem, but we begin by making it an issue to be addressed in all planning. Start with simple ride sharing. Think about giving a ride to seniors. They might slow you down a bit, but you will be glad you offered. How many churches have vans and buses, and how often are they in use? Could churches become part of the solution? Georgia Southern owns a fleet of big buses. Could the university use them for seniors for selected events? Might taxi services consider a reduced rate for seniors? I don't have answers, but I hope others can start the search.
Fitness and exercise therapy prolong the physical vitality of seniors. Those with money and transportation can go to a gym, even hire a personal trainer. In some cases, Medicare will pay for a certain amount of physical therapy in the home. However, most elders cannot have a long-term fitness program. If they walk, they need to do so in the company of others for safety and security. Some used to walk in the mall, but that practice was discouraged, and there is no secure indoor site for days when heat, cold or rain makes outdoor activities impossible. Could something be done for them at school gyms or the facilities at the old Sallie Zetterower and Julia P. Bryant sites?
Water therapy is very good for several physical problems. Splash in the Boro has some equipment to aid people with disabilities, but distance is an issue. Even if seniors have cars, the number of convenient parking spaces is small. Face it: Splash is basically a water park designed to provide recreation for kids. Check out the TV commercials. Could the pools at the two older, more convenient sites be repaired and updated to accommodate seniors?
Fitness equipment does not have to be fancy. Used equipment from private individuals, commercial gyms, school athletic programs and GSU could be used to set up facilities in the senior center, the Honey Bowen building or a spare room in any business. Would it be possible to use gym facilities in the schools when they are not being used for students? Might faculty and qualified students from GSU's Department of Health and Kinesiology help to set up programs and facilities and help seniors use the equipment properly? It could be a great experience for everyone.
Roger G. Branch Sr. is professor emeritus of sociology at Georgia Southern University and is a retired pastor.