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WNC Business

Councils On Aging Offer Services to Retirees in Need - Part 2

Oct 21, 2023 10:14AM ● By Randee Brown

The Henderson County Council on Aging is in place to ensure retiree’s needs are met in order to allow retired residents to age in place safely, according to Development and Communications Director Emma Wilson.

Henderson County has a large proportion of elderly residents due to a favorable climate and location for retirement, and the largest age group of retirees consists of those aged 75 to 84. Adults ages 65 and older make up 25.4% of the population compared with an average of 15.9% across the state. The county has a median age of 47.4, which is several years older than the state average of 38.74. It is predicted the county’s population ages 65 and older will continue to grow over the next three decades, exceeding the growth rates of this age group in the region and the state, with the greatest percent change seen in ages 65 to 74.

A large percentage of active retirees take part in the community, playing a role financially and socially. Wilson said there is also a large percentage of community members that are nearing retirement ages, but the percentage of the population under the age of 18 is declining. According to Wilson, this means that these sorts of services will have to expand in the coming years, and there are already wait lists for services.

The retirement community will continue needing different levels of support as they age. Many have natural support like friends, family, and neighbors, but those living in remote areas and many relocating to the county without an existing support network will continue to depend on public support or retirement communities for different aspects of care. 

The Council on Aging acts as a community directory by sharing information for entities involved in senior care, and also provides programming directly to clients. Meals on Wheels is the largest program, serving seniors who are no longer driving. More than delivering meals, drivers for this program provide socialization and perform safety checks when visiting clients.

Other programming includes congregate dining, serving about 35 seniors daily, and a liquid nutrition program for those medically at risk for solid foods. Many participants in these programs are either isolated, struggling, or in a lower socio-economic class, and the goal of the CoA is to help these people age gracefully.

The Council on Aging also offers respite services, which allow caregivers to take some time for themselves. Caregivers are often the adult children of retirees, and there are a lot of emotional aspects of constantly providing care. Seeing a lot of caregiver fatigue within that population, respite services allow these caregivers a chance to rest and take care of their own necessities as well.

A newly-formed Aging Coalition in Henderson County comprises representatives from hospitals and businesses is working to approach the City and County to help improve services offered to retirees, according to Wilson. The Council on Aging is a member of the Coalition, and working as a guide on how to implement changes for the city.

Hendersonville, despite having such a large retiree population, only mentions ‘senior’ twice in the city plan. Wilson said people are now helping make adjustments to the plans while considering the elderly population in the progression of the city. Buncombe County currently holds the designation of an Age-Friendly Community, and Henderson County is trying to learn what is needed and what works for them in order to implement some of that.

“We keep being asked about a new senior center,” Wilson said. “The Council on Aging doesn’t have the capacity to offer that at the moment, but the City and County are waking up to the fact that this is a really big issue.”

Wilson said while many people plan their retirement, many do not plan for aging, and there are a number of local support groups that can help with the factors and processes involved. She suggests retirees prepare to adjust through the years regarding physicality, socialization, balance, and more.

“The more able a person is to handle changes, the better prepared they will be to adjust to the changing needs of their life,” Wilson said. “The Council on Aging tries to help guarantee as good a life as one can have.”

Many Council on Aging staff want to do more for retirees in the community, as they gain a deeper understanding of how hard aging can be for people. They understand the ones who need services the most are often the ones the most difficult to reach, and they work to meet the people with the greatest need rather than the ones who are closest or most conveniently located.

During COVID, there was significant extra funding for these services, and the CoA has recently had to scale back services as the funding diminishes. Wilson said it is hurting staff spiritually because it’s very hard to say no to someone coming to you for help. Many staff extend themselves farther than they should, and the CoA overall is overspending because it’s so hard for them to say no.

The Council’s funding comes from several sources — one-third from donors, one-third from the Council’s thrift stores, and one-third from grants. Wilson said the funds coming from grants also come with a lot of regulations of how to spend the money. There are so many regulations they almost can’t do what needs to be done, so they are trying to expand the flow of unrestricted funds.

“We need money without rules attached to it if we want to get people off of these wait lists,” Wilson said. “If someone goes on to assisted living or a family member moves in to help we can take someone off that list, but we don’t want to wait on someone’s situation to change before we can change someone else’s. We really want to have the funds to provide as much as we can as the needs dictate.”