Endowed chairman outlines improvement plan for elderly

Jennifer Nacin

With the help of a visting professor, the College of Family and Consumer Sciences is pushing for an increase in services and community improvement for aging Iowans.

John Krout, the 2004-05 Dean Helen LeBaron Hilton Endowed Chair, spoke to a group of more than 80 people Thursday on the issues of “Aging in Rural America.” Krout has been selected as the chairman in an effort to expand gerontology research and curriculum in the college. He aims to find ways to improve the quality of life of aging populations in rural Iowa.

Krout identified the main areas his efforts with Iowa State will focus on. He said there is a need to identify weaknesses in current gerontological data, to better define what is rural, to identify and discard myths of rural elderly lifestyles and the communities in which they live, and to improve and expand the availability of services to the elderly.

Krout said he will work with students, faculty and staff throughout the year to fulfill these needs and expand current research and curriculum in the gerontology program.

Peter Martin, director of the gerontology program, said Krout’s series of visits and research will improve the quality of life for rural elders.

“All of that really helps us understand the resources older people have and it will help us see they need help and support,” Martin said. “We can give more to them than we have in the past.”

Krout said since Iowa’s population has a high percentage of adults over 65, realizing issues in rural aging is becoming more and more important.

“We have Dr. Martin as a leader of the gerontology program at ISU working with colleagues to develop proposals that will convince the federal government that, by golly, we ought to be looking at rural issues,” Krout said. “Rural areas are important to the nation’s economy and politics.”

Krout said it has been difficult to define what is rural because different federal agencies have different qualifications for what is rural. He said he hopes to better identify and help others better identify the parameters for this definition.

Myths of aging rural populations are partly the cause of lacking government support and an inadequate amount of services offered to the elderly in rural areas.

“Myths have led us down some wrong paths when deciding policies that affect rural areas,” Krout said.

Examples of rural area myths are that rural elders have less need for health and social services and that they have fewer economic challenges, he said.

Availability of services is another element of rural studies that Krout said he aims to improve and multiply. Rural hospital locations in relation to living locations and lack of transportation to these locations are seen as main problems facing elders and service providers.

He said many “rural hospitals have closed or reduced the level and range of services.”

Faculty see a need to expand the curriculum in the gerontology department to improve aging rural populations and create jobs for those in the field by improving service accessibility to seniors.

“What I wish will result from these efforts is a more focused concentration on employment and career opportunities for students,” said Margaret Torrie, associate professor of human development and family studies.

Krout is the director of the Gerontology Institute in the Center for Health Sciences at Ithaca College in New York and has worked in various areas of gerontology for 25 years. He will visit campus in November, February and April. He is the keynote speaker for the April 2005 conference on “Rural Aging in Iowa: Learning, Research and Engagement.”