Rural Aging

Today, older Americans are living longer. In 2010, nearly 40 million people age 65 and over lived in the United States. This number represents 13% of the U.S. population, or about one in every eight Americans (Older Americans 2012). It is projected that by the year 2030, there will be about 72.1 million people age 65 and over, more than twice their number in 2000 (Older Americans 2012). As of 2007, the elderly make up 7.5 million of the 50 million people living in rural America (2008 Report).

Health in old age is greatly determined by living patterns such as sensory impairments, oral health, obesity, cigarette smoking, air quality, prescription drugs, access to health insurance, access to health care services, and opportunities for access to disease prevention and health promotion throughout the life cycle.

Elderly who live in rural areas face additional challenges. These include lack of transportation such as rides for essential trips, medical appointments, business errands, shopping and senior activities; lack of access to medical care; unavailable cultural and social services; and lack of adequate housing.

Sources: Older Americans 2012: Key Indicators of Well-Being; 2008 Report to the Secretary: Rural Health and Human Service Issues

Frequently Asked Questions

What significant issues face the rural aging population today?

Rural elderly face several issues, such as:

  • Migration
    The lack of profitability of family holdings has been a cause of rural poverty and has increased migration to urban centers. Older persons are usually the last to move, following their children to urban areas and may face difficult adjustment.
  • Environmental challenges
    These may include lack of safe drinking water, lack of proper sanitary facilities for disposal of sewage and garbage, low quality housing, lack of electricity, malnutrition, poor and badly maintained roads, and extreme climatic conditions for parts of the year.
  • Remoteness
    Living in isolated areas distant from urban areas may result in inaccessibility to health care, lack of educational opportunities, lack of transportation to medical appointments, and difficulties in communication.
  • Health issues
    Health issues affecting rural elderly include inadequate nutrition, obesity and illnesses such as diabetes, Alzheimer's and depression.

Does every state have an agency on aging?

Yes, each state has an agency on aging. These agencies can help you locate information and assistance on a variety of issues in your local area. These services serve people age 60 and over.

  • The Eldercare Locator
    A service of the U.S. Administration on Aging, shows all state and area aging agencies
  • AARP
    Has information on all state offices, including services in your community and volunteer opportunities
  • National Family Caregiver Support Program
    Source for finding state programs specializing in caregiver support, respite care, and supplemental assistance

What is the Meals-on-Wheels program?

The Meals on Wheels Association of America is the oldest and largest organization in the United States representing those who provide meal services to people in need. This program provides one hot meal per day to seniors. The guiding principle to which it subscribes is to help those men and women who are elderly, homebound, disabled, frail, or at risk. It also gives cash grants to local senior meal programs throughout the country to assist in providing meals and other nutrition services. The Meals-on-Wheels website allows you to search by city and state to find a listing of all programs in your area.

Some Meals-on-Wheels programs provide congregate meals in addition to home delivered meals. Congregate programs are simply programs that serve at senior centers, where seniors can come and eat their meal in the company of others. While this is not a rare type of program, it is certainly less common so you should check with your local program to see whether or not they have a congregate program.

Seniors living in rural communities have limited resources and services, including getting meals delivered due to time, distance, cost, and labor. Meals On Wheels Association of America’s Rural Initiative is working to find solutions to address these challenges. The development and dissemination of a blueprint for the model rural Senior Nutrition Program is anticipated to address this situation.

How might one find transportation to get to medical appointments in rural communities?

Information on transportation options for the disabled and the elderly should be available at local human service offices, local transit authorities, community and faith-based organizations, and regional planning organizations. Contact your local county social service agency, your community action agency, and/or call 2-1-1 if this service is available, to find out what programs are in your area. If at the local level you are not finding out sufficient information, call your state Rural Transit Assistance Program (RTAP) manager.

The National Volunteer Caregiving Network (NVCN), formerly called Faith in Action, has over 1,000 programs throughout the country. This volunteer program provides many services, including transportation to doctor appointments, errands, and picking up groceries. NVCN provides a searchable database of programs throughout the United States. Each state has a transportation office. These offices can assist in helping answer questions and locating what transportation programs are in your area. The U.S. Department of Transportation provides a state-by-state directory to provide contact information for each of the state transportation managers and associations.

Citizens or groups wanting to implement a transportation program in their rural community should visit with their state office listed above. Your state representative can tell you what can be done and how to do it. They may also have the means at the state level to offer grants to purchase vehicles. Community Action Agencies can also provide citizens with information on transportation in rural areas.

The American Public Transportation Association contains a listing of local public transportation systems. This listing provides a state-by-state display of state, regional and county transportation services available. They also provide a listing of public transit in your community.

For further information on rural transportation programs, please see the RAC Transportation Topic Guide, particularly the frequently asked questions section.

Financial abuse amongst elders is a serious problem. Where can one go for help with this issue?

Financial abuse is the illegal or improper use of an elderly person’s funds, property, or resources. This is a serious problem and is on the rise. There are many reasons an elderly person might fall into a financial abuse situation.

These might include not realizing the value of their assets and being unaware about financial matters, being dependent on others for help, being taken advantage of and being embarrassed to report a scam or financial abuse situation, and not understanding advances in technology which makes managing their finances more complicated. Here are a few resources regarding financial abuse and elders:
  • National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse
    Discusses various financial abuse situations, defines the perpetrators, and lists indicators.
  • The Eldercare Locator, 1.800.677.1116
    Directs callers to senior information and referral telephone lines in their communities. These programs include elder abuse prevention, support services, legal assistance, and many others.
  • INFOLINK, 1.800.FYI.CALL (1.800.394.2255)
    Directs callers to the closest, most appropriate services for victims of crime, including crisis intervention, assistance with the criminal justice process, counseling, and support groups.
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline, 1.800.799.7233
    Links callers to legal advocacy and social service programs
  • National Center on Elder Abuse
    Provides resources on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.