The Elderly

Today's seniors face unique challenges. San Bernardino City Mission is helping to meet them.

Unique Issues Facing Seniors

About 35 million Americans today 1 in 8 is age 65 or older. And that percentage is increasing. The elderly population has its own unique concerns. Among the most pressing? Hunger.

Nutrition and Health

Adequate nutrition is important to all of us regardless of our age. We need good food to maintain our health, mobility and all-around functioning.

But for elderly people, this issue is especially. They're particularly vulnerable to physical and cognitive impairments and other health problems.

Scientific evidence increasingly supports the fact that good nutrition is essential to the health, self-sufficiency and quality of life for older adults. Seniors who don't have enough food are likely to report their health status as fair or poor.

Seniors are also more likely than their younger counterparts to endure chronic health conditions, deficiency diseases, digestive problems, and susceptibility to infection.

Beyond all these things, there is a social cost to bad nutrition: Health problems mean higher medical costs. The health care costs for low-income seniors that aren't due to to aging are disproportionately caused by malnutrition. They represent 12.5 percent of the total population, but incur 30 percent of all health care expenditures.

Proper nutrition among the elderly promotes good health and helps prevent chronic (and costly) disease and disability. It can reduce future health risks - and costs.

The Elderly in Rural Communities

Rural areas have a higher proportion of elderly residents than urban and suburban areas. Seniors constitute nearly 20 percent of the non-metro population, while they're only about 10 to 15 perecnt in urban areas. And rural seniors are more likely to be poor than their urban counterparts.

At the same time, rural communities often lack access to social services, transportation and food resources. In areas with low population density, social services are sparse and hard to reach.

Even when they exist, older residents may have trouble accessing. Often they don't have reliable vehicles or even the ability to drive one. And only about half of all rural counties have public transportation systems.

Grocery stores are widely scattered in rural communities so seniors often find it hard to get to them. And the prices at rural grocery markets are about 4 percent higher than suburban prices.

Low Participation Rates in Federal Programs

Seniors have historically low participation rates in federal nutrition programs, particularly the Food Stamp Program. Only one-third of all eligible seniors participate in the Food Stamp Program, a much lower rate than that in the general population.

Many factors may contribute to this low rate: lack of transportation, misinformation about the program, and long applications that are hard to fill out. Long waiting lists also present a barrier with the Elderly Nutrition Program (ENP); the average waiting period for participation in an ENP home-based meal program is 2 to 3 months.

Finally, programs like The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which provides emergency food boxes to low-income seniors, is not available through every emergency feeding program seniors might use. The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), which provides food to the elderly as well as low-income pregnant and breastfeeding women, new mothers, infants and children, is not available in all states.

Is it any wonder that our senior population is suffering? These are some of the things the City Mission addresses on a daily basis.