Survey: Newark seniors less optimistic about future health, finances than seniors nationally

By Bill Wichert | The Star-Ledger
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on September 07, 2014

Newark citizens play bingo, stay hydrated and stay cool in the air conditioning at the Ironbound Senior Center cooling station, located at the Sharpe James / Kenneth A. Gibson Recreation and Aquatic Center in this July 2013 photo.



NEWARK — Senior citizens in the Newark area are just as likely as older people in other parts of the nation to exercise daily and set health goals.

But compared with seniors across the country, older residents in Newark are less optimistic about their future health and improvements in their financial situation, and they are less likely to say their community is prepared to meet the needs of the senior population.

Those are some of the findings of a recent nationwide survey that included a specific focus on senior citizens in the Newark metropolitan area – a project that organizers hope will lead to a local dialogue on senior-related issues.

“That truly is the hope, that this will inspire a lot of discussion so that we can peel away the layers behind these statistics and understand what’s behind it and come up with greater community support services for our seniors,” said Debra Kaplan-Lewis, regional vice president for Medicare and Retirement in New Jersey for UnitedHealthcare.

The third annual survey – known as the United States of Aging Survey – was conducted by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, National Council on Aging, UnitedHealthcare and USA TODAY.

Comprised of 3,279 telephone interviews between April 3 and May 6, the survey included responses from 250 senior citizens in the Newark area. The survey also involved analyses on seniors living in the Cleveland and Dallas areas.

The Newark metropolitan area was selected for a closer examination because of its unique characteristics in terms of the socioeconomic and demographic makeup of the population, Kaplan-Lewis said.

Newark, for example, has large African-American and Hispanic senior populations, which are disproportionately affected by chronic diseases, Kaplan-Lewis said.

Kaplan-Lewis said “we thought that Newark would present a pretty compelling case study for us.”

The survey has revealed various distinctions in the attitudes amongst seniors in the Newark area and those across the nation.

For instance, 13 percent of Newark seniors said they expect their health to get much better or somewhat better during the next five to 10 years, compared with 17 percent of seniors nationally.

Newark seniors and others across the country expressed comparable levels of concerns that their savings and income may not be sufficient to last the duration of their lives, Kaplan-Lewis said.

But more Newark seniors expressed concerns than seniors nationally in terms of paying their current bills, she said. Fewer Newark seniors also were optimistic that their financial situation will improve during the next decade, compared with national results, she said.

Twenty-one percent of Newark seniors said it was difficult to live alone, compared with 14 percent of seniors nationally, Kaplan-Lewis said. “That’s pretty dramatic,” she said.

In terms of community preparedness, 54 percent of seniors nationally said their community is doing enough to prepare for the needs of a growing senior population, but only 49 percent of Newark seniors felt the same way.

The “community dialogue” to result from the survey will hopefully address the concerns amongst seniors, Kaplan-Lewis said.

“Hopefully the dialogue that occurs locally will take that worry and convert that into preparedness, and that’s what really needs to occur,” she said.

Jaklyn DeVore, director of the Essex County Division of Senior Services, said she is looking to use the survey results as the impetus for such a discussion with seniors, elected officials and service providers.

The county is planning to provide information about the survey at its nutrition sites for seniors as well as at senior apartment buildings, DeVore said. In addition, the county is looking at developing a TV program about the survey results for a local public-access channel, she said.

DeVore also said she would like to convene focus groups of local seniors to get their perspectives on the survey results.

“I think that this gives us the opportunity to really have a discussion moving forward,” DeVore said.

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