The results of a countywide senior assessment survey issued by the United Way and the Community Caring Council show that many senior citizens in Cape Girardeau County are leading active, independent lives.
John McGowan, director of community impact for the United Way of Southeast Missouri, said that not only were most of the seniors surveyed still living on their own but that they were away from home almost every day.
The survey showed 89.5 percent of the 2,000 respondents lived alone or with their spouse. More than 76 percent said they still drive, and 57.1 percent said they leave their homes five or more times a week.
While seniors appear to be living independently, the survey also identified areas where they need assistance.
"Overall the biggest need is for things folks are getting less capable of taking care of on their own -- yardwork, minor home repair, housekeeping. The stuff that is just getting too difficult," he said.
McGowan said the study was also to determine how to help people remain living in their homes.
"We were looking at the biggest things to keep them living independently," he said. "The United Way funds programs that keep people living in their homes as long as possible, so they're not at a nursing home before they need to be."
Other needs mentioned in the survey were companionship, someone to call in an emergency and access to nutritious meals. The results showed 78.3 percent of seniors ate three meals a day. Of the respondents who ate less often, 22 percent said they could not afford to eat more or were not physically able to prepare their meals.
"There is no reason why there's a senior anywhere in Cape County not getting at least one hot meal a day," McGowan said. "Because of our senior centers, because of Meals on Wheels and the senior center delivery program, there is food available for everyone who is 60 and above."
He said one of the more surprising findings in the assessment was that many seniors did not know what services were available to them. He said the United Way and other agencies will be working with various groups, such as the Visiting Nurse Association and area senior centers, to distribute a senior resource guide that lists where seniors can go for basic services, such as employment, meals, health education and transportation.
McGowan said there will also be greater emphasis placed on the United Way's First Call for Help, a hot line anyone can call that connects people in need with available resources.
McGowan said one hurdle facing the United Way was making seniors realize there is no shame in asking for help.
"This population is very self-sufficient and does not want to ask for or accept help," he said. "You're not asking for a handout, just a little help. There isn't a person alive, it doesn't matter from birth to earth, that can't use a little help once in a while."
He encouraged people to reach out to seniors in their neighborhood and family by making sure they were aware of services or giving them a senior resource guide, available at www.communitycaringcouncil.org or at various locations in the county.
McGowan said 12,500 surveys were distributed to county residents 60 and older and 2,000 were returned, for a higher response rate than was anticipated. The survey results will soon be online at www.unitedwayofsemo.org, but McGowan said he did not know the exact date.