Aging gracefully in Arkansas

by Ray Hanley ([email protected]) 1,770 views 

In 2019, 698,131 Arkansans were 60 years or older, representing 23.2% of our population, according to a report by the U.S. Administration for Community Living. These numbers are projected to grow over the next few decades.

Aging presents a variety of challenges. Activities that were once routine can become difficult. Family members and caregivers may struggle to provide the assistance that many aging adults need. Research by the AARP has found that 90% of Americans 65 and older want to stay at home for as long as possible, and 80% think their current home is where they will always live. Most of these adults will require assistance caring for themselves at some point.

There are a variety of factors that can affect an individual’s ability to stay at home. Finances, the size and design of their home, access to transportation, and access to social activities all factor into the decision. An individual’s health is also a major factor.

The challenges of aging are not insurmountable but meeting these challenges will require a concerted and coordinated effort between individuals, communities, and state and local governments.

Aging gracefully begins with adopting a healthy lifestyle. It is never too late (or early) to begin. There are a number of free tools available on AFMC’s website to help add years to your life and life to your years by:

  • Monitoring and tracking blood pressure
  • Managing cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking
  • Improving diet by following either the Mediterranean or DASH diets
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight, ideally BMI of less than 25
  • Moderating alcohol to no more than two drinks a day for men; one drink for women
  • Increasing physical activity to strengthen the heart, increase mobility, enhance the immune system, and improve mood and functional status, while reducing risks for osteoporosis, certain cancers and diabetes.

The UAMS Arkansas Geriatric Education Collaborative also provides high quality programming to support healthy aging in Arkansas for older adults. They have a variety of resources available virtually, such as exercise videos, cooking demonstrations and online community programs. Additionally, there are resources and tips available for family caregivers.

The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service Extension Get Fit Program is a community-based strength training program targeted to midlife and older Arkansans. The program is designed to:

  • Improve strength, balance and flexibility
  • Reduce the risk of falls
  • Help maintain independence
  • Increase energy
  • Help manage your weight
  • Decrease pain
  • Help you feel better

Access to healthy foods can be an issue for seniors in Arkansas, especially for those without access to grocery stores offering fresh produce and other healthy choices, or those who do not have transportation to regularly shop for food.

The Senior Farmers Market Nutritional Program is a USDA-funded program that provides low-income seniors with access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs. Coupons for the program are available through local Area Agencies on Aging. The Arkansas Department of Health’s Healthy Active Arkansas initiative also works with communities and neighborhoods to make it easier to eat healthy.

State government also has a role in ensuring that all Arkansans have the opportunity to age gracefully in their own homes. The Division of Aging, Adult and Behavioral Health Services (DAABHS), within the Arkansas Department of Human Services, serves as the focal point for all matters concerning older Arkansans. They work to give the aging population a voice in government and to ensure that our senior citizens have a choice of how and where they live out their golden years, regardless of income. Through a variety of programs, they address access to healthy foods and provide options for low-income elderly and disabled individuals to receive home and community-based care, based upon their needs, and ensure that aging adults have access to resources to help them stay healthy and active in their communities.

The Division of Provider Services and Quality Assurance (DPSQA) provides certification, licensing and quality assurance for providers engaged in these programs. AFMC provides provider outreach services for DPSQA. AFMC’s DPSQA outreach specialists serve as the link between the Division of Provider Services and Quality Assurance (DPSQA) and the Medicaid provider community. The specialists help ensure providers understand applicable DHS programs, program requirements and operations, new initiatives, Medicaid policy changes and best-practice guidelines. AFMC’s Inspections of Care team conducts annual and random on-site health and safety licensure/certification reviews, inspection of care reviews and quality of care/service reviews for providers engaged in these programs.

It is often said that raising a child takes a village. Looking to the other end of the spectrum, ensuring that aging Arkansans have the opportunity to live out their years healthy and happy also takes a village.

Editor’s note: Ray Hanley, President and CEO of Arkansas Foundation for Medical Care, and Chad Rodgers, MD, AFMC’s Chief Medical Officer, are the authors of this commentary. The opinions expressed are those of the authors.