Seniors get helpful tips on rising cost of living

Published 9:00 am Friday, March 22, 2024

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LANETT — Local seniors useful advice on how they can be assisted with the rising cost of living at a Thursday morning forum at Lanett City Hall. The event was hosted by the East Alabama Regional Planning and Development’s Aging and Disability Center. The seniors asked questions on an array of issues such as dealing with high utility bills and rent, having their grass cut at a reasonable cost and about the help available to a family member that’s dealing with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

Area Aging Director Michael Morrison told a packed house that such meetings are taking place throughout the EARPDC’s 10-county region to compile a list of current senior concerns that will go into a needs assessment for calendar years 2025-28.

“We need input on services we are offering and services you would like to see,” Morrison said.

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Nick Nyberg, program and planning division chief for the Area on Aging, talked to the group about what’s currently being offered by the Area on Aging. He has more than 40 years experience in the field. The AAA, he explained, offers three important activities for older Alabamians within its service area.

They include (1) serving as an advocate on behalf of older persons who live within the service area, (2) identifying the needs of the elderly and the plans for meeting those needs through a system of in-home and community services that enable the elderly to maintain their independence and dignity and (3) to administer a wide variety of federal, state, local and private funds which support those services.

Nyberg said that Alabama has more than 1.2 million residents who are in the 60 and older group and the number is growing. Alabama has 13 areas on aging. Chambers County is in a group that includes Tallapoosa, Coosa, Talladega, Clay, Randolph, Calhoun. Cleburne, Etowah and Cherokee counties.

Much of what is done at the state level is made possible through the Older Americans Act of 1965. Part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program, the Older Americans Act was the first federal initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults. It created the National Aging Network comprising an Administration on Aging and state units on aging.

Seniors present at Thursday’s meeting asked a variety of questions. They were also asked to stay after the meeting to ask additional questions if they wanted, plus to respond to 10 questions on a needs assessment survey.

“We need all the help we can get,” said one man present. “Some of us need basic housework and work in the yards such as trimming bushes and cutting the grass.”

Such chores that are easily done by younger people become more and more difficult to do for people as they age. One woman still living in her home said she’d like to have her grass cut on a regular basis during the growing season but that it’s hard for her to pay $60 every time it’s done on her limited income.

“I am proud to be an old man,” said one participant. “But we are dependent on whatever help we can get.”

“A lot of us have lost husbands or children,” a woman said. “A lot of us are by ourselves now, and we need a social network. We feel totally lost.”Financial planning and budgeting are important to us, but some of us feel torn up and don’t know what’s going on.”

Nyberg said that seniors are especially vulnerable to scams. “There are all kinds of scams out there,” he said. “A number of seniors live in rural areas that don’t have broadband service. They can’t get the internet, and it’s hard for them to reach out for assistance.”

Anthony Brock of the Lanett Housing Authority said he wanted to help seniors in any way he could.

“I love older people,” he said. “I want to make life easier for you. I especially want to help those who have been victims of elder abuse. I want to point them in the direction of getting the kind of help they need.”

One woman said she was having a terrible problem with her utility bills.

“My last one was for $800,” she said.

At Monday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Jamie Heard said the city had a payment plan that could lessen these bills this time of the year. Around 100 people are on the plan. They don’t have to pay the full amount when it’s due. They can pay a portion of it now and portions over the rest of the year.

Lanett Senior Center Manager Sandra Thornton said that seniors with pets have trouble taking proper care of them as they age.

“They need help with this,” she said.

Nyberg said the state has a robot pet program that offers an alternative. The robot pet is adorable for anyone who touches it, but does not have the same needs as real pets.

“Groundhogs are tearing up my garden,” one man complained. “I’m an old man, and it’s hard for me to deal with it. I work hard to have a garden only to have the groundhogs and raccoons tear it up.”

Nyberg said that high utility bills aren’t a problem just in Chambers County.

“I’ve heard complaints on this in other parts of the state,” he said. “It’s a big problem when the power is shut off. Seniors do not need to go without basic services.”

He added that more emphasis was being placed on social isolation.

“It was especially bad during Covid,” he said.

“I would like to have these sessions more often,” said a woman present. “I am a caregiver for three family members. I need to be informed on help I can get for those who have dementia.”

Morrison said he wanted those present to know that the EARPDC will do all it can to be of assistance to anyone in its 10-county region.

“Our motto is Have Car, Will Travel,” he said. “We have billboards on the main highways trying to get across who we are and what we do.”

“We want to be more visible in our efforts to help you,” Morrison explained.

A man present said he’d like to have a local support group to help families who are dealing with a loved one who has Alzheimer’s or dementia.

He said he’d visited such a group in Auburn but would like to have one in Chambers County.

“We need to have a conversation about this to see what we can do,” Nyberg said.

“Dementia is a public health emergency,” he said. “The Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS) has been awarded grants to deal with this. We are putting a lot of emphasis on it right now,” Nyberg said.

He said the state has an employment program for seniors.

“It is important for us to get our information face to face,” a woman said.

Morrison said the EARPDC office is a distance away from Chambers County, but that it’s possible to have a satellite office locally. Such offices are already available in Gadsden and Sylacauga. “We’ve considered putting one in Chambers County,” he said.

Morrison added that the main office in Anniston can always be contacted by calling 1-800-AGELINE (or 1-800-237-6741).

“They can offer advice on problems you are dealing with,” he said. “There could be resources available to you that you may not be aware of.”

Heard said he had some officials from Washington, D.C. in his office on Thursday to discuss ways of helping local seniors.

“There’s a grant available to help seniors with home repairs,” he said. “We’d like to receive such a grant to help our seniors.”