YUMA, Ariz.–At age 82, Maria Luisa Pallares sways her arms as she practices Tai Chi, a gentle form of exercise that can help maintain balance, flexibility and strength. She is among a group of seniors at a recent week-long health event organized by Sunset Community Health Center in Yuma, Ariz. It was her first Tai Chi experience.
“I am very happy here and they’ve treated me well,” Pallares said. “They helped me with everything.”
She retired to San Luis, Ariz., from California 22 years ago. Her doctor told her Arizona’s dry climate will be good for her. “I have arthritis,” she said. “My doctor told me that humid weather is bad for arthritis.”
Rapidly Growing Senior Population
Pallares is part of a rapidly growing aging population of people who will live well into their 80s—an age that comes with an increased demand for health care.
In the United States, 10,000 people turn 65 every day and more of the nation’s population will live well into their 80s, an age at which there is considerable demand for long-term care services.
But as one of the nation’s more popular places for retirees, is the Arizona region ready to meet their needs? AARP recently measured each U.S. state’s capacity to offer healthcare to people like Pallares. (To see how your state scores, click on AARP’s interactive Long Term Care Services & Supports Scorecard website.)
They looked at access to affordable housing, choice of medical insurance and providers, and support for family caregivers. Arizona ranked number 26 on the list.
AARP State Director Dana Marie Kennedy says that’s a decline from the group’s 2014 report. “You know, I think a lot of it has to do with the funding,” Kennedy said. “We’ve had substantial cuts in our long-term supportive services since 2008.”
The report found that Arizona could offer more subsidized housing for low-income seniors and that’s a big problem in this region.
Waiting List Despite Housing Need
This summer, multiple agencies joined to fund an apartment complex here geared toward low-income seniors and homeless people. The project is managed by Comite De Bienestar a nonprofit housing development organization. Executive Director Tony Reyes said it’s the first in over a decade.
“It’s been a while. The recession really took a toll on development project,” Reyes said.
“It’s a good time to be doing this and things that you can actually see.”
Still, there’s a waiting list. Reyes said the city needs to continue to make housing a priority as the city grows and people age.
Back at the Sunset Community Health Center event, former farmworker Jose Villa, age 69, is learning about simple healthy meals he can prepare at home. He said housing takes the majority of his pension.
“I’d like to have affordable housing or building your own home programs,” Villa said. “I understand nothing is free, but some of us need a little help.”
Villa said he depends on free events to monitor his health. He gets his sugar level, cholesterol, and blood pressure results within minutes.
“I got checked last year, I hope this year the results are good,” Villa said.
He said he still needs to pick up odd jobs to supplement his income.
Villa and Pallares said Arizona has some good resources for seniors but still needs improvement. That’s in line with the middle of the pack ranking Arizona received in AARP’s scorecard report.
Kennedy, AARP’s organization’s state director, said those improvements depend on the state legislature.
“We’re not keeping up with the demand,” Kennedy said. “As long as Arizona Legislature doesn’t make aging a priority in their state budget, I think we’re going to continue to decline.” (NAM)