Hero Image

UCCE Alameda examines quality-of-life education needs of elderly

The Issue

Seniors 65 and older are the fastest growing population in the world, and the growth rate of those 85 and over in the U.S. is even greater. People aged 65 and over are expected to make up 20 percent of the U.S. population by 2030. In California, the population of seniors over 85 will increase by half in 38 counties, double in 26 counties, and triple in 11 counties. As people live longer lives, nutrition- and lifestyle-related chronic diseases increase, but many are preventable. Low literacy, limited income and poverty are obstacles to understanding wellness information for many seniors.

What Has ANR Done?

Alameda County UC Cooperative Extension assessed disease conditions and quality of life education needs among limited-income elders in eight cities. The goal was to learn how best to help seniors integrate wellness information into their lives. The participants were volunteers who attended Cooperative Extension Quality of Life education forums at 22 meal sites, centers, clubs and low-income housing facilities. The study documented their chronic diseases and nutrition and wellness education needs; associated their disease conditions with diet(s), physical activity, age and ethnicity; and examined what they expected from educators. Participants were 75 percent female, 25 percent male, and their ages ranged from 60 to over 80. They were 54.9 percent white, 24.3 percent Asian/Pacific Islanders, 15.4 percent African American, 4.9 percent Hispanic, and 0.5 percent American Indian. Results showed all seniors reported at least one chronic disease, 22 percent reported 2, 15.4 percent 3, 8.2 percent 4, 4.8 percent 5, 5 percent reported 6 or 7 diseases. Fifty-one percent reported taking medications. About 27 percent were on special diets - mostly low fat, low cholesterol, low salt, low sugar and a few on vegetarian and weight loss diets. Some said they were confused, discouraged or tried to do what's easy (e.g., "take the medication and hope for the best.") Elders wanted classes to be interactive exchanges about what mattered to them - not abstract data. The greatest challenge for at-risk elders is to integrate multiple complex concepts into their lives.

The Payoff

Seniors at risk want interactive education based on their needs

The research provides a better understanding of what at-risk seniors want, need and expect from Cooperative Extension educators. Nutrition and lifestyle diseases are expected to increase dramatically over the next 20 years. The results of this survey inform educators and the public of elder needs and offer perspectives and understanding on how best to promote wellness among this rapidly growing population. A better quality of life will help reduce the rate of episodic care among elders and benefit California by reducing health care costs.


Supporting Unit: Alameda County

Mary L Blackburn, (510) 639-1274, mlblackburn@ucdavis.edu