What do seniors want?

Results of survey of North Coast seniors puts help navigating heath insurance at top of the list

ktanner@thetribunenews.comSeptember 5, 2013 

Local seniors say they need help understanding Medicare and the “Covering California” health insurance exchange (under the Affordable Care Act), navigating legal affairs, planning for advanced care, doing home and yard maintenance, finding friends and social activities, having regular, healthy meals and food, accomplishing personal care and getting from place to place.

That’s according to answers that 80 North Coast seniors submitted on a survey distributed by the Area Agency on Aging in February through April in San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. A total of 2,138 surveys were submitted from the two counties.

Getting the answers

Approximately 40 area residents attended a 2.5-hour, town-hall-style meeting Aug. 15 to learn the survey results and hear various representatives outline how their agencies and groups can fill those informational gaps and needs for help.

The Cambria Connection sponsored the meeting in the Community Room of the Palmer Building, a space formerly outfitted as the Teen Center. Survey and agency information and handouts are available there, at the Cambria Connection, 870 Main Street.

The survey is the result of a periodic requirement for the Central Coast Commission for Senior Citizens (under the umbrella of the Area Agency on Aging or AAA) to assess the needs of residents who are 60 and older. Since 1975, the commission and AAA have been responsible for planning, coordinating and implementing programs that promote the health, dignity and wellbeing of older adults in the two counties.

Kristi Jenkins, president of the Cambria Community Healthcare District, said many Cambria organizations provided the survey to their members and urged them to complete and return the forms.

Survey results

Survey answers were collated, totaled and broken out by area. AAA presenter joyce ellen lippman (who doesn’t capitalize her name) handed out copies of her 20-page Power Point presentation and explained survey statistics.

She said that in Cambria (compared to other geographic areas), relatively few seniors use services available to them. Among the survey’s key findings then, one was not a surprise: A lack of information about and understanding of the sometimes complex issues confronting seniors.

Lippman told attendees that understanding Medicare is a top need, and the strongly independent philosophy that prompted respondents to check “prefer not to ask for help” is the top thing that makes it difficult for seniors to get the assistance they really need.
The average Cambria respondent was 72.6 years old, an English-speaking married female, well educated, healthy, and with an average annual income of more than $56,000. However, about 44 percent of those filling out the survey live alone.

The average age of the respondent from Cambria was 72.6, more female than male, married, well educated (some college or above) healthy, average annual income $56,177, 44% living alone, and English speaking.

About 58 percent of local respondents had some physical impairment, 24 percent were widowed, 92 percent were heterosexual, and 80 percent were retired. However, a large number of survey respondents declined to state or left blank questions about sexual orientation, impairments, household income and ethnicity.

Most survey results matched projected demographics in AAA’s operational plan for fiscal year 2013-2014, except far more of those self-reporting live alone: Nearly half of the respondents, as opposed to the AAA data, which identified 19 percent living solo.

What participants learned in the meeting was that local seniors’ number-one area of concern for the present is staying physically fit and preventing falls, followed by accidents in and out of the home, social isolation and loneliness, available transportation, crime/fraud and abuse and disaster preparedness.

Mentioned as top concerns for the future, in order, were Alzheimer’s/dementia and dependence on others (tied at 44 percent), available transportation, accidents in or outside the home, affordable health care, nursing home placement, physical fitness and financial security.

In the more vulnerable groups, needs and concerns are at a more basic level: Meals and food, help with shopping and errands and support with homemaker, chores and personal care tasks.

Jenkins said, “Under the category of things that make it difficult to get help, number one is ‘prefer not to ask for help,’ followed by ‘do not know who to ask,’ ‘service not available where I live’ and ‘cannot afford it.’”

Services the seniors already use included: Information and referral services, meals and food (especially among the more economically vulnerable subpopulations), senior center services, Medicare counseling, transportation, individual counseling, support groups and legal services).

You can help

Those willing and able to help North Coast seniors can do so, lippman said at the meeting, by helping to explain Medicare through HICAP, delivering meals to homebound seniors, drive the seniors to appointments and promote physical fitness and balance programs. She recommended that people join the AAA Advisory Council to help set funding priorities and develop annual plans.

In turn, AAA must do a better job of letting seniors know what services are available to them, especially Medicare information for all and basic services for those  most in need. Transportation also is a key for North Coast communities located 20 to 30 miles from key services.


At the meeting, local agencies making presentations services provided in the local community included: The Alzheimer’s Association, Cherish Care, Cambria Adult Resources Education and Support (CARES), Cambria’s Anonymous Neighbors (CAN), Senior Nutrition, Community Health Centers and Wilshire Home Health. Among the services they offer include transportation to medical appointments, food distribution, assisted living and in-home care, meals, and adult day care and caregiver respite.

Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.

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