Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Comment On Rural Aging and Community Life

March 19, 2007

Here are some letter excerpts from readers replying to my column on the aging of rural America and the future of rural communities.

The thoughts of an 80 year Iowa farmer:

Self-Care, attitude, mobility. Rural areas have been declining since about 1900. I have been told its because of Conservation Reserve Program, because of better jobs in urban areas, because of brain drain, because of technology, or because of better roads.

Attitude. The real reason is all the above, but mostly it’s our attitude. I find most of my neighbors resist change, they lack the ability to adapt, they spend most of their time feeling sorry for themselves.

Health. Talking about health care, I find most people understand nothing about nutrition. This includes my medical professional friends....Can these people read, can they understand, can they think, or do they wish hand outs and desire to be waited on? Some of us might live long enough to see major changes in our health care system to include acupuncture and alternative medicine based on solid nutrition. "All" drugs have side effects!

Volunteers. Our county has been losing population at a rate of about 160 people per year. We do not need rocket science for that problem. We have too many layers of local government, and we do not need so many volunteers. Our welfare people want more money. Many others want freebies.

Civic improvement is a consideration, but who is our target, a few kids or the bulk of the population? The few kids are driving 100 miles just for fun anyway. Think nature.

In summary: Most of our rural problems are self imposed by our negative attitudes, lack of thinking and planning ability. "Poor me!" "I'm lazy." "I'm a procrastinator." I believe we are living in the greatest age of all history, right now!

From a South Dakota Lutheran Social Services Senior Companion Program Coordinator:

Many seniors do not have family members close by and many of them live out of state. The major problems I see are transportation, medical facilities in their communities, isolation and living below the poverty level. The Senior Companion program helps keep seniors in their homes as long as possible by providing socialization and help with small tasks during home visits.

Some of these people have farm land which they cannot sell because of capital gains. Others will live in poverty so they can pass the farm to their children.

Another problem in rural communities as our population ages is finding volunteers for the fire department, ambulance or first responders.

We need to help rural communities organize so they can be a solution to their own problems. We need an organization that can run a program statewide in order to have consistency. ...The problem is where does the financing come from? We don’t need a new organization. We can make use of an existing one that understands rural problems and speak the "language" of rural people.

The views of an 85 year old retired farmer from southwestern Minnesota:

Older farm couples. In my area, retiring farmers rent their land to neighbors or children that wish to expand, and a few rent to larger operators from farther away. Some renters want to achieve better economy of scale, others want to justify the machinery they have. That can get to be a cycle, more machinery to justify the large operation, then more land to justify the machinery.

Health care: I do not see rural hospitals closing as a major problem as long as regional hospitals maintain modern life saving equipment and attract competitive doctors. Rural clinics are a necessity for ordinary ongoing health care and as a prep station to ready emergency cases for transportation to an adequate regional hospital. Also it is imperative that first responders and ambulance service is available in rural areas. This shouldn’t be a problem if the ambulance is properly equipped and communication with the specialists at the regional hospital is adequate.

Home health care: I think small towns should aggressively pursue acquiring housing for the elderly because the baby boomers are coming. Affordable housing for the elderly will be good for the small town and for the elderly. The key is to make it affordable and as home like as possible and to have assistance available when needed.

Shortage of volunteers: Care of the elderly must provide a profit for the people or community that provides the housing, also for the workers, the medical personnel, and all who are involved as a means of livelihood. Volunteers bolster the morale of the elderly and provide services that cannot be done by employees. They are the essence of community involvement. But survival of the system must not depend upon them.

Civic improvements: A community strong enough to aggressively provide for its elders very likely would promote voter understanding of the affordable civic needs. If not, the community will become stagnant and so will eldercare.

Mobility: Transportation for elders that enables them to go out of the area to visit relatives and to go in groups to enjoy amenities in other places is paramount.

The reader concludes, "Change is a constant. Each day the door of yesterday closes behind us as we gaze into a new present with new opportunities and challenges. Obtaining a population base sufficient to make a beneficial impact on the economy needs a regional effort because no community can prosper in isolation."