Mon, Sept. 16

What Seniors need

Everyone seems to know a few senior citizens. Most people have grandparents or friends of relatives that are seniors. Some parents are even getting on in years. Some of us reading this article are "of age" ourselves. It is a phenomenon that reaches most of the world's population if you wait long enough.

There is a discount at many restaurants for those bird-like appetites, though seniors tend to have among the higher consumptions of tree nuts. Some, who achieve a secret symbol for their license plate may park closer to the door.

An elder is sometimes defined as: someone "older than you are." But for government work, people over age 60 begin to qualify for government services. Age 65 is another trigger for services.

Melanie Starns is the policy director for the Governor's Office on Aging. As a whole, she says, 12 to 13 percent of Arizona's population is over age 65. The numbers are much higher in several Arizona counties where people retire. In Yavapai County the population over 65 is 22 percent.

By 2030, according to Starns, Arizona is predicted to double its total population. At that point, the percent of seniors will be one-third of the state population.

Counties like Yavapai need to be leaders in developing policies and attitudes to including seniors as "valued members of the community," she says, and help "battle the idea of "age-ism'" Yavapai and other counties must take the lead in developing a multi-generational work force with jobs that are meaningful and suit diverse skills.

With an increasing retirement population in the Verde Valley, the City of Cottonwood has been aware of its maturing population. Recently, it formed a Senior Commission, an act only taken by much larger Arizona cities. The role of that commission is still vague, but the intention is to get ahead of the statewide curve.

Cottonwood needs a head start. According to the 2000 census, which is already aged itself, the Cottonwood population over 65 was 22 percent. Twenty-seven percent exceed age 60.

There are already a number of government and no-profit services available for those in this area. The Northern Arizona Council of Governments is the agency that administers a number of services that are state and federally funded.

The Department of Economic Security has a mature workforce program.

Verde Valley Caregivers provides transportation and other basic services for those who want to remain independent in their homes but cannot always do things for themselves.

The Osher Lifelong Learning Center, a function of Yavapai College, looks to provide seniors with forms of ongoing education and experience.

The Verde Valley Senior Center took a step up in public visibility when Yavapai County's former locomotive repair shop was refurbished to use for congregate meals, entertainment and socializing. The center is also a way station for a variety of information and services targeted to seniors. Executive Director Elaine Bremner likes to say the center is a Chamber of Commerce for seniors, and a legal advocate is available weekly for those who need that service.

But the role of the city government has not been defined.

Duane Kirby, a council member who is a representative to the NACOG Area on Aging hopes "we can be a centralizing point for all those organizations."

He admits, after the organizing, "we will have to watch our pennies until we get a new budget." But, then he points to the city's Youth Commission, which raised most of their money themselves with yard and craft sales.

The Cottonwood Council has agreed the Senior Commission should consist of three senior members of the general public (of at least 60 years), three members shall be service providers for seniors, and one member of the general public must be a least 21 years of age. Two members of the council may take part in meetings but may not vote on commission decisions.

Another organization is the Verde Valley Seniors in Action Coalition, originally called the Task Force on Aging. It has grown into an advocacy agency. It prepared a study over the question of whether the City of Sedona should have a commission on aging. After a reported 80 pages of research, the study determined that what is actually needed is a staff position that is available to answer phone calls with questions that regularly face seniors.

That is an issue that is repeated again and again in Cottonwood's case as well: "where can I find (blank)?"

Ann Leap now occupies the position of Senior Information Referral Specialist with an office in Sedona City Hall. She is a former psychotherapist and did some social work. She says the title is under review, but the meaning is the same. She helps people find services.

There is sometimes a lot of handholding. "They may call for one thing and then you find out they have other needs as well. I will make a call for them. Some people are bed-ridden and they have a difficult time following up"

Once again, the biggest issue is letting people know how to find the service in the first place. Leap says she speaks to special interest groups. There are now about 40 calls each month, double the number that she first received. Still there probably a lot more people out there that need services, too.

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