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The Older Adult Population in the Ozarks Has Challenges and Opportunities

Next week, as part of our Sense of Community series, KSMU will be looking at Aging in the Ozarks each day at 7:30AM and 4:30PM. To help us understand some of the challenges facing older adults, KSMU’s Missy Shelton recently spoke with Dorothy Knowles from the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging. She files this report.

A number of factors have made the Ozarks attractive to individuals who have retired. With its pristine natural beauty, a reputation for friendliness, and a moderate climate, Southwest Missouri is a popular place for retirees who want to live in a centrally located area. Dorothy Knowles is CEO of the Southwest Missouri Office on Aging, a regional center that covers 17 counties.Knowles says the influx of older adults into the Ozarks is a good thing right now but she warns that this population could face problems in the future.

Knowles says, “I think we’re getting ready to see a train wreck because right now, people move in and they’ve retired. They make great volunteers. They come in and want to embrace the community and give back. Fast forward ten or twelve years and when those people are 75, there’s going to be so many of them. And I think the younger senior, and I speak for myself, is going to be a little more demanding on the system than the people were 15 years ago.”

That attitude shift can be a good thing since it means that older adults will be more willing to advocate for themselves but Knowles says it will put a strain on some programs.

She says, “They know there’s something available and they should be able to participate in it…just a little more aggressive. You take an 85-year-old right now and if you tell them, ‘We have all the people we can serve in our homemaker program,’ they’ll say, ‘Honey, we understand. It’s ok. We’ll try to get by.’ I would bet you 12 years from now, you wouldn’t get by with that line. They’re going to say, ‘Why isn’t it there? Why don’t I deserve it?’ I really perceive that, just from what I see now.”

One service that’s in high demand among older adults is transportation. Knowles says even for older adults who are capable drivers, sometimes the cost of keeping up their car can become overwhelming. She anticipates that public transportation services like OATS will be in greater demand as the population ages.

She says, “Transportation gets to be as a senior ages, one of the major issues. Now, in the rural area, it’s that they’re pretty comfortable late in life driving in their own community but if they have to come to Springfield as the hub of their medical services, they’re pretty intimidated driving in town. Taxis are available but they’re expensive, if you’re in on a limited income. OATS has a good system but there’s a wait system there, it’s not personalized, like your taxi service. That can get to be a real problem and issue.”

And if it’s expensive for some older adults to maintain their own cars, maintaining their home can also pose a problem. Knowles says it doesn’t take much for bills to pile up.

She says, “Probably the major problem that there’s not a lot of help for is when a person is trying to keep their own home and they have a major problem like replacing a roof or replacing the pump in their well. They’re not prepared for it because they haven’t been able to save because on $1,000 a month, there’s not much to put back. They come up with some major problem. Sometimes, it threatens their independence.”

Join us next week at 7:30AM and 4:30PM for our Sense of Community series as we look at challenges and opportunities for older adults in our community.