For Elderly in Rural Areas, Times Are Distinctly Harder

From the New York Times:

Published: December 9, 2009

LINGLE, Wyo. — Norma Clark, 80, slipped on the ice out by the horse corral one afternoon and broke her hip in four places. Alone, it took her three hours to drag herself the 40 yards back to the house through snow and mud, after she had tied her legs together with rope to stabilize the injury.

A dutiful farm wife, Ms. Clark somehow even got to her feet to latch the gate. And her first call when she got to the house was not to 911, but to a daughter 30 miles away.

“I told her she’d better come feed the horses,” said Ms. Clark, telling the story from her living room overlooking her 900-acre wheat farm.

Growing old has never been easy. But in isolated, rural spots like this, it is harder still, especially as the battering ram of recession and budget cuts to programs for the elderly sweep through many local and state governments.

Ms. Clark has been able to get help since her fall two winters ago because Wyoming, thanks to its energy boom, continues to finance programs for the elderly. But at least 24 states have cut back on such programs, according to a recent report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research group, and hundreds of millions of dollars in further cuts are on the table next year.

The difficulties are especially pronounced in rural America because, census data shows, the country’s most rapidly aging places are not the ones that people flock to in retirement, but rather the withering, remote places many of them flee. Young people, for decades now, have been an export commodity in towns like Lingle, shipped out for education and jobs, most never to return. The elderly who remain — increasingly isolated and stranded — face an existence that is distinctively harder by virtue, or curse, of geography than life in cities and suburbs. Public transportation is almost unheard of. Medical care is accessible in some places, absent in others, and cellphone service can be unreliable.

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