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Eleanor Franks waits for the Rook cards to be dealt while playing with fellow seniors at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center in Decatur.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Eleanor Franks waits for the Rook cards to be dealt while playing with fellow seniors at Turner-Surles Community Resource Center in Decatur.

America’s
silver tsunami

Programs challenged as number of seniors rises

By Catherine Godbey
cgodbey@decaturdaily.com · 340-2441

World War II ushered in the era of women in the workplace, color televisions and a baby boom.

Six decades after the onset of the baby boom, a new boom is exploding through the United States — a senior citizen boom, otherwise known as the silver tsunami.

According to the U.S. Administration on Aging, in 2006 people 65 and older accounted for 12.4 percent of the country’s total population. The administration estimates by 2030, that age category will encompass 20 percent of the population, translating to a 34.2 million increase.

With the country on the cusp of a senior citizen eruption, maintaining programs centered on seniors represents a challenge.

In North Alabama, the North-central Alabama Regional Council of Governments leads the campaign in providing these services. NARCOG addresses the seniors’ needs by funding the senior centers, and establishing medical and legal services.

“Senior citizens need programs geared to get them out of the home and offer them more activities,” said Ronald Matthews, senior services director for NARCOG.

22 area senior centers

In Morgan, Lawrence and Cullman counties, NARCOG funds 22 senior centers through federal grants while the local commissions on aging handle the operation of these centers.

At Turner-Surles Community Resource Center in Northwest Decatur, laughter, music and the sound of a treadmill echo through the halls. Using an exercise room, billiard room, lounge area and dining room, which also serves as the gaming room, the seniors take on the roles of athletes, musicians and game players.

“These are lively people who fill the place with a fun-time atmosphere,” said Steve Griffin, manager of Turner-Surles.

“The programs at the senior centers get them out socializing with others and give them something to look forward to,” added Rodney Gann, NARCOG’s director of aging.

For the 45 seniors who identify themselves as Turner-Surles regulars, the center represents a place to stay active.

“I’m here five days a week. Good thing it’s not open seven days because then I would be here every day,” said Martha Hawkins. “If I wasn’t here, I would be at home, but I want to be here playing cards and socializing. I’ve made a lot of new friends here.”

Lee Southward and Lorene Majors raved about the activities.

“We get to go on trips, we play bingo every two weeks and we have guests come and talk with us,” Majors said.

“And the dances,” added Southward. “Don’t forget the dances.”

Along with activities, the center provides meals with a dollar donation and arranges public transportation for seniors needing assistance.

“Our main goal is to give the seniors a place to go, and we do everything to meet that goal,” Matthews said. “However for those not able to move, we bring meals to them and offer them home services.”

Delivering meals

Turner-Surles delivers 28 meals to homebound clients daily. NARCOG checks the medical records of the seniors to ensure their physical limitations.

Along with meeting nutritional and social needs, NARCOG addresses legal and medical needs.

The senior and elderly waiver program provides homemaking and personal care services for seniors unable to meet their own needs.

Both the clients and the government benefit from this program, with the state spending $700 on home services for each client monthly.

“Without these services, the state would spend $3,000 per client per month because these clients are eligible for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and Medicaid, and the government would be responsible for paying for the nursing homes,” Gann explained.

Medical benefits extend to the Senior RX program, which finances $90,000 worth of medications a month for people aged 55 and over with income limitations.

To handle the senior’s legal needs, NARCOG employs an attorney who assists with issues, such as contracts and wills.

More than 10,000 seniors benefit from NARCOG’s services. For Matthews, however, serving 10,000 seniors is not enough. He wants to reach them all.

“From the census we know that there are 30,000 seniors living in Morgan, Lawrence and Cullman counties,” Matthews said. “I want to get the word out about our programs to all of the seniors.”

As NARCOG targets more seniors and with baby boomers applying for Social Security benefits, problems in funding will arise.

“I am part of the ‘silver tsunami’ and we’re coming of age where we will be eligible for services but our parents are still alive and we are also caretakers,” explained Gann. “Add to that we’re at war, which is a tremendous drain on resources, so we are looking at services being cut for our seniors and services being cut for our children,”

Attendance increase

Turner-Surles is experiencing the effect of the disproportionate increase in need versus funding. Since the center opened in January 2006, senior attendance has increased by 50 percent. According to Gann, the center is reaching the maximum number of meals it can prepare.

Morgan County Commission on Aging Director Debra Rains argued, “If we have a need, we find a way to provide for that need.”

Gann urges seniors to lobby for funds.

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