Report evaluates seniors' lives

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Thirty-three percent of Cape Girardeau County seniors never exercise. That's news the Southeast Missouri Area Agency on Aging plans to use.

In the past, spokeswoman Ruth Dockins said, the agency has based decisions on anecdotal evidence and a vague sense about the way things were with Southeast Missouri's senior citizens. Now a new report released Tuesday provides those who work with the area's older residents with figures and facts.

Missouri officials visited Cape Girardeau to unveil a new report they hope will guide state policy makers and community leaders to prepare for the needs of their growing senior population. Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, along with other state officials, introduced the first-ever "Missouri Senior Report: Ahead of the Baby Boom: Missouri Prepares."

"I'm glad we've got a baseline," said Dockins, who hosted the event Tuesday at the Missouri Department of Conservation office at Cape County Park. "Before, we thought we knew the way it was, but we had nothing to base it on. Now we've got a foundation of facts to build on."

The 143-page report is a collaboration between the Department of Health and Senior Services and the University of Missouri-Columbia's Office of Social and Economic Data Analysis. It tracks the trends of aging Missourians county by county, comparing them on a variety of indicators, such as health and transportation.

The report ranks counties by the quality of life they afford seniors using criteria that included the availability of transportation and jobs to social and civic involvement and health issues. Cape Girardeau County ranked 24th among the state's 114 counties and the city of St. Louis. Perry County ranked 48th, Bollinger County 66th and Scott County 67th.

Boone County, home to the University of Missouri, was ranked first. Boone County seniors are less likely to be crime victims than typical Missourians, are more likely to be engaged in civic activities, paid less for health care and had better access to physicians, the report said.

Ranked at the bottom was the city of St. Louis. Near the worst counties for seniors were Dunklin and Pemiscot counties.

"The next few decades will see an explosion of Americans who are 65 or older," said Kinder, whose job as lieutenant governor includes being an advocate for the elderly. "This report is designed to allow policy-makers to prepare."

Almost one in five Missourians will be 65 or older by 2020, Kinder said, the result of increases in life expectancy and aging baby boomers. Today, seniors compose 10 percent of Missouri's population; in 2020, the number rises to 18 percent.

The surging senior population will affect Missouri communities in different ways, varying among cities, suburbs and rural communities. Kinder said the report, to be released annually, will show area agencies which issues need more attention than others.

Dockins agreed. "It will help us reassess efforts each year to meet the needs of the seniors," she said.

Kinder said the report will be made available to legislators and to senior advocacy groups on online at www.missouriseniorreport.org.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

Other key statistics from Cape Girardeau County include:

* Senior owner-occupied housing: 78.3 percent

* Seniors in poverty: 10.1 percent

* Average income of senior households: $35,600

* Seniors with a college education: 13.9 percent

* Seniors with high blood pressure: 55.6 percent

* Seniors who qualify as obese: 24.4 percent

* Seniors who smoke: 10 percent

* Seniors with high cholesterol: 53 percent

* Percentage of all seniors with driver's licenses: 78.2 percent

* Percentage of seniors working for pay 12.5 percent

* SSI payments as percent of total personal income: 45.2 percent

* Hospitalizations and ER visits for diabetes per 10,000 seniors, 56.9 percent

* Medicaid costs for long-term care per capita: $180

* Property and violent crime per 1,000 seniors: 42.3 percent

* Social and civic engagement index for seniors: 41.4 percent

Source: Missouri Senior Report, 2006

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