Statement Of Kathleen Coen Buckwalter
Environmental Protection Agency
Aging Initiative Public Listening Session
Iowa City, Iowa
April 15, 2003
Associate Provost for Health Sciences, University of Iowa
Co-Director, Center on Aging, University of Iowa
This forum is particularly timely and relevant for the people of Iowa and our institutions with core missions of research, education and service. The long anticipated demographic shift to an older population is on our nation's doorstep with Iowa already ranking fourth in the U.S. with percentage of residents over the age of 65 and older and, second in percentage of those over the age of 85, the old old. This forum is also important for other reasons. Iowa has a long tradition of valuing its natural resources, its older citizens, and service through volunteerism, all of which are being addressed in this public meeting. With deep agrarian roots, many old Iowans have an appreciation for the environment that still engenders a strong commitment to its stewardship and preservation for future generations. For many elders, rural Iowa is still their home. Iowans, 65 and older, comprise almost 22 percent of the total population of Iowa's nine least-populated counties. That is counties with fewer than 8,000 people. Fifty percent of the 65 plus age group live in 73 counties with populations of less than 24,000 residents each. The combination of the high percentage of the oldest old, those 85 and over, and elders living in rural areas presents us with some significant challenges. It is estimated that over half of the rural elderly are in poor health. Advancing age is also a significant factor in the need for many primary health care, health promotion programs, dental and mental health and social support services, pharmaceutical services and specialty care. For example, the elderly visit physicians each year at more than twice the rate of the general population, are admitted to hospitals three times as often, stay longer, and use twice as many prescription drugs. Elders are also at the highest risk for admission to long care health facilities. These factors reinforce the need to assess the impact of environmental hazards on the health of the older population and to develop policies that will assure that their quality of life is not compromised. The University of Iowa Center on Aging is working hard to address the state and national challenge in aging. Our focus is to lead in the improvement of the health and well being of our valued older population. As a catalyst for collaborative efforts with the university and with state and community-based partners, the center is helping to redefine aging by promoting research and translating findings into education, training, public policy, and clinical and outreach services to provide practical benefits to older adults and their families. The University of Iowa applauds the Environmental Protection Agency for its important efforts to develop a national strategy that will address environmental hazards relative to the health of older citizens and for seeking input from all sectors and citizen representatives through this public listening session. My special thanks go to Roy Binns, Bob Reeser and James Kelly from the Center on Aging for preparation and facilitation of this session. Also thanks to Becky Soglin and Dave Peterson that helped with public relations and Dave McCullough from the College of Public Health Communications for disseminating news about this important activity.