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WNC Business

Supporting connections and community for retired adults

Oct 05, 2023 01:13PM ● By Randee Brown

Fifty years ago, the Older Americans Act inspired the creation of the Land of Sky Area Agency on Aging, according to AAA Director LeeAnne Tucker. Agencies and organizations similar to this exist all over the country to ensure older Americans receive the resources and support they need, and the Land of Sky AAA helps retirees make connections to organizations in other areas if needed.

The primary function of the AAA is to act as a referral source for older adults and their caregivers. They connect individuals with resources, offer printed resource guides, and work with nonprofits and businesses to make sure everyone’s needs are met, though Tucker said resources are limited.

“COVID funds from the federal government are going away,” Tucker said. “There’s currently not enough funding to serve every older adult, and we are trying to form plans to fill the gaps by looking at the local and state levels to form groups to help get more funding. We’re also looking at entities other than the federal government like Dogwood Health Trust and others that may help fill these gaps.”

Through the Older Americans Act, 20 services are funded through a Home and Community Care block grant. Services range from in-home aid to meal delivery to transportation — anything to help support older adults aging in place. Tucker said the needs of this population have shifted, and social isolation has become more of a challenge. They are working to get iPads in the hands of older adults, offering more congregate meals at senior centers, and looking at different ways seniors can access these services all while working within federal guidelines for funding.

“People are living longer and the Baby Boomer generation is getting older and wanting more services,” Tucker said. “Younger older adults don’t want to go to senior centers or congregate meals; they want to go to cafés or other locations that have a multi-generational clientele. They also want health programming on topics like disease prevention and self-management. There is a mindset shift happening, and we have to shift with that in what we can offer.”

Buncombe County is working toward creating an Active Aging Center — a facility that will act as a one-stop shop for all older adult and caregiver needs. There will be people on staff from various agencies including Veterans Affairs and Meals on Wheels, as well as a café, coffee shop, adult day programming, a gym, and even childcare programming.

“The plans are in the infancy stage,” Tucker said. “Finding a site is a challenge, and it would need to be centralized and along public transportation routes. It’s a great idea because aging can be confusing, and this type of Active Aging Center would help retirees find all the resources they need in one place.”

Many retirees are involved in a variety of volunteer efforts, serving on nonprofit boards and subcommittees in various roles. Tucker said retirees move here from other areas around the country bringing their expertise, ideas and thought patterns, and they are helping to solve community problems and creating nuggets of change in area challenges that apply to all populations, not just retirees.

“These folks are jumping right in to help,” Tucker said. “They still want flexibility and appreciate the virtual aspect of some opportunities, and organizations are shifting to make that work. It’s interesting to see those wanting to learn something new, as well as those wanting to use their career expertise on different committees for the good of the community.”

Over the last 50 years, the population of retirees has grown. Tucker said now the population of individuals 60 years old and older in Transylvania County is 40%, and is 35%, 32%, and 28% in Henderson, Madison, and Buncombe respectively. 

With a variety of service providers already focused on serving this community, the overarching challenge continues to be the workforce. The AAA assists with workforce efforts for services supporting aging adults by helping with job fairs focusing on this industry and encouraging providers looking for workers to blast their opportunities far and wide to attract more applicants.

“This population will continue to grow, and the programs and services supporting this population also need to grow,” Tucker said. “The community needs to look at ways to support older adults and their caregivers and figure out a plan of what can be done locally beyond funding from the federal government. It is time to go back to the community/neighbor model of helping each other out. We really help each other out in this region. It’s really the heart of Western North Carolina.”