Survey finds some local elderly in 'crisis' Malnutrition, substandard housing cited

April 16, 1993|By Deidre Nerreau McCabe | Deidre Nerreau McCabe,Staff Writer

An Anne Arundel County survey looking at the needs and opinions of its older residents estimates as many as 1,100 are living in "crisis" due to poverty, malnutrition, ill health, substandard housing or isolation.

The eight-month study, highlights of which were released Wednesday, shows the vast majority of county seniors lead "active, satisfying and rewarding lives." Some, however, are in dire need of immediate help.

"This confirms our belief that a lot of seniors are doing very well, but those who are not need a lot of help," said Carol R. Baker, director of the county's Department of Aging, which conducted the study in conjunction with the Bethesda-based research firm of Ecosometrics, Inc.

"We have already started to do more community outreach to get to those people," she said.

Results of the study, the most comprehensive ever done here, will be released officially today in conjunction with the 10th anniversary celebration of the Department on Aging, set for the South County Senior Center in Edgewater. Findings will be used by the department over the next decade to determine how best to serve seniors in need, administrators said.

Ms. Baker said the county decided to conduct the study last year because of the growing senior population here, as well as in surrounding jurisdictions. County planners needed to know if resources were getting to those most in need, she said.

They found that a significant number of seniors with serious problems knew little about the many programs available to them. A third of the elderly residents with the lowest annual incomes -- those under $8,000 -- did not participate in any of the 32 programs available to the elderly, 23 of which are administered by the Department of Aging.

To conduct the survey, Ecosometrics staff trained Department of Aging employees, who interviewed 605 randomly selected residents, all over the age of 60.

In one of the cases described, a 74-year-old man, who is legally blind and walks with a cane, was found living in a dilapidated shack with a leaking roof. The shack had no indoor plumbing; he used an old outhouse. The man wore layers of tattered clothing all winter for warmth. His annual income was $5,124 from Social Security Income.

When interviewers came upon cases such as this, they used the opportunity to help arrange services for the person, as well as to collect data for the study, Ms. Baker said.

Patricia McGarty, who coordinated the study for the department, said she was most surprised to learn how many county seniors were living on annual incomes less than $15,000. According to the report, 41 percent of the county's seniors, or 22,200, had incomes under that amount.

"Some of these things we had suspected, but they're more dramatic when you see them in print," she said.

Poor women 75 and older, who do not live with a spouse, are most likely to face severe problems that require Department of Aging services, the report found. And about a quarter of the seniors interviewed said they had problems because of insufficient income.

Although the report uncovered a number of problems, it also turned up some positive information. Eighty percent of residents over age 60 own their homes and 56 percent have paid off the mortgage. Even more surprising, administrators said, 80 percent all county seniors own a car and hold a valid driver's license. Only 2.3 percent of the elderly use public transportation.

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