Survey of St. Petersburg's older residents offers a few surprises

ST. PETERSBURG — A report released Tuesday about the city's older residents had a few surprises within the findings mined from an eight-page questionnaire.

The report, "Planning for an Aging St. Petersburg," is based on responses completed by a sampling of residents age 45 and older in each of the city's eight districts. Questions focused on issues such as health and health care, housing, transportation, caregiving, retirement planning and financial well-being.

Many who completed the survey weren't aware of the senior services offered by the city. Baby boomers had higher levels of depression than older residents. Substance abuse treatment ranked high among what are seen as unmet needs and about 40 percent of those who filled out the questionnaire didn't know what they would do for transportation when they could no longer drive.

Deb Close, chairwoman of the Commission on Aging, was surprised by the number of people who were unaware of the services provided by the city's senior centers.

"We went into the survey with a pretty good understanding of what the needs would be, but the lack of knowledge of the current programming and sources of help was surprising," she said.

Jennifer Salmon of the Aging Research Group, which conducted the survey, offered many recommendations in her report, some of which will cost money, but Close said emphasis will initially be on what can be done immediately.

"There is very important strategic planning data that are going to require those significant resources,'' she said, adding that there's time to address those as baby boomers age.

"We can focus on education and better marketing. … We can better target which districts and neighborhood centers are going to be the first recipients of the different kind of programs that are going to be developed,'' said Close, interim director of mission for Bon Secours St. Petersburg, a nonprofit, long-term care health system.

Salmon, who has conducted similar surveys in Florida, was most surprised by answers to the transportation question.

"I think that the lack of a plan for transportation was even more extreme from what I found in Hillsborough,'' she said.

It's unlikely, she said, that some people who said they would rely on the bus would do so, since many had never used one.

That substance abuse treatment was cited among unmet needs, along with senior center activities, support groups, dental care and chances to volunteer, didn't surprise Jay Morgan, manager of the Office on Aging.

"I've always known that aging in place is a difficult transition. As you get older and frailer, a large majority of seniors have a trouble dealing with that,'' he said, adding that he saw the problem with his own mother, who began drinking after his father died.

"It can be a challenging time,'' especially for baby boomers sandwiched between concerns for their children and their parents.

"The main thing is not just ignoring that situation, or denying it's coming, but planning for it,'' he said.

Other findings included the fact that District 7, in the Midtown area, had the highest percentage of people who said they had delayed buying prescription drugs due to cost in the past year. As well, retirees were more confident that they would have enough money for the rest of their lives, compared to baby boomers.

Information from the survey, conducted in March, April and May of last year, will be used to help the city plan for its older residents, apply for continued accreditation of the Sunshine Senior Center and Enoch Davis Center and to apply for grants.

The city contributed $5,000 to the $35,000 cost of survey from an Office of Aging trust fund, along with in-kind contributions. The rest of the cost was covered by a grant from the Bon Secours Health System Mission Fund.

Mayor Bill Foster, who joked about being a baby boomer himself, introduced Salmon's presentation on Tuesday.

"We are not ready to just roll over,'' he said of the city's older residents.

"As a city, we want to help you have fun … make sure you're connected to the vibrancy … as we age gracefully together."

The Commission on Aging is planning an educational event for the spring, Close said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2283.

Survey of St. Petersburg's older residents offers a few surprises 01/10/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 6:47pm]

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