Providing services that will allow those who belong to Utah's rapidly growing elderly population to remain in their homes should be the No. 1 priority through the end of the century, according to the final report on "The Future of Aging and Adult Services in Utah."
During a Tuesday news conference, Gov. Norm Bangerter released the report, the result of two years of study and several public hearings throughout the state.Services that have been targeted to enable the frail elderly to remain at home include telephone reassurance, friendly visitor, homemaker/personal care, home health aide and household and yard maintenance.
A fairly large portion of those who live at home are able to do so because one or more of those services are available, the report says. Most services are provided by the area agency on aging (like a county aging authority) and the Office of Community Operations under guidelines and through funding provided by the State Division of Aging and Adult Services.
Low-income elderly and those who have limited or no community or family support are the highest priority target population.
Between 1986, when the study began, and the year 2000, the population of those 60 and older is expected to grow 33.5 percent 11/2 times faster than the general population, and 14 times faster than those in the age group under 18. The number of senior citizens over age 85 is projected to increase by 115 percent more than 47 times faster than those under 18.
Along with the population growth will come an increase in the number of poor and near-poor elderly, most of them the very old, women, minorities and those who live alone.
The report points out that the need for services currently outstrips availability, a problem that will only worsen as the aged population grows.
The good news is that most of the elderly are independent, able to live in their own homes and basically take care of themselves, as long as support services such as transportation, congregate meals, employment, health screening and promotion, and socialization and recreation activities are available.
The report also noted that the diversity of responses received during the public forums throughout the state - in Brigham City, Salt Lake City, Provo, Beaver, Vernal and Price - indicates decisions about service delivery should be left in the hands of local agencies as much as possible. For instance, in Provo, medical emergency costs were the greatest concern, while maintenance and expansion of home-delivered meal programs were a key concern in Price.
"This study calls for a new direction, and I sincerely hope that the many hours of hard work, provided by dedicated people, will not have been in vain," the governor wrote in his introduction to the study. "Rather, it is my desire that the Legislature and the state and local agencies affected by, and involved in, programs for adults and seniors will move this plan toward implementation consistent with a determination of priorities and available resources."