The organization, dedicated to helping poor people stay in their homes in the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana region, is seeing demand for its services rocket over the last two years, from 40,000 calls for help in 2009 to 66,000 in 2011, according to president Jock Pitts.
Those in charge of dealing with the surging numbers of elderly people say such community-based help and other innovative solutions are especially important in struggling areas such as Appalachia.
"Given our state's limited resources — we're not going to hit the lottery — we are changing, in Ohio, our approach," said Bonnie Kantor-Burman, head of Ohio's Department of Aging. "There is a limit to what the state and federal governments are going to be able to do."
She sounds the alarm by often displaying a set of color-coded maps produced through Miami's Gerontology Center that show the projected aging of the population in eye-popping detail: In 2000, about one-fourth of the population in three of Ohio's 88 counties was 60 or older; in 2010, that was true of 16 counties, most of them in Appalachia. By 2020, it's projected to be 76 counties — with one-third of the population in six of those counties 60 or older.
Other community efforts to keep senior citizens in their homes include The Village concept, in which residents and volunteers help provide transportation, handyman work and home health care. Pioneered in Boston in the last decade, it is spreading into such states as North Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
The state of West Virginia, meanwhile, has designated six "retirement zones" where senior citizens can get access to affordable housing, health care, education, culture and recreation.
"We need to be talking about it and working together to find solutions," said Thomas Campbell, a state legislator from Greenbrier, W.Va., whose widowed mother is 89. "People in Appalachia tend to want to stay in their homes and have their family as close to them as they can, and I don't think those are bad things. I think we'll find a way to do it."
Associated Press writer John Raby in Charleston, W.Va., contributed.
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