Aging Together, the local non-profit geared to providing support for older residents and their families in Culpeper, Orange, Fauquier, Madison and Rappahannock Counties held the first of six community meetings last week at the Madison County Fire Hall.
The meetings held in conjunction with the American Association of Retired Persons and titled Community Conversations on Aging, focus on learning more about the needs and concerns of the aging population of the region.
Data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service estimates that the Madison County population aged 75-plus is expected to grow and become 14.6 percent of the total population. Total population is expected to have small gains from 2020-2040, but the percentage of the population 75 and up is expected to increase by almost 50 percent.
Participants were asked three questions: in your opinion, what strengths/assets does this community have that help or improve your aging experience; what concerns do you have as you age in this community and what gaps do you experience or see; and what opportunities do you believe our community could leverage to improve your aging experience?
More than 80 Madison residents attended the forum and expressed a variety of concerns about aging in Madison County. Most participants were happy with the quality of life in Madison County and identified many of the county’s strengths and assets including the MESA food pantry, emergency services, the Madison County Public Library and the Madison Senior Center. The friendliness of the area was also viewed as a positive as was the availability of a wide range of religious worship opportunities.
Seniors with a strong social network and family in the area perceived transportation in the rural area to be less of a challenge than those with fewer connections. Madison County has very limited public transportation options so getting to stores, doctor appointments and social gatherings could be seen as isolating although most of the participants had at least one friend or family member that could be called on for transportation.
Several expressed concern about the availability of home repair services, stating that the contractors in the region were backlogged and often priced too high for people on a fixed income often leading the residents to ignore potentially hazardous situations.
The lack of skilled caregivers was of concern to some participants. Several participants cited cases of a friend or relative needing home care and being unable to find qualified caregivers to help.
A few cited a lack of high-speed and dependable internet connections as a problem. Satellite is the only option for many in rural areas. There are some spots in the mountainous northern part of Madison County where satellite service is unreliable or isn’t possible.
Overall, the Madison County seniors at the meeting were happy about their quality of life and the opportunities for older residents. When queried about what could improve their quality of life, one of the top responses was an increase in senior friendly activities. People were looking for possible art and music classes geared for adults, educational demonstrations and several expressed a desire for the Town of Madison’s concert series, Music on the Lawn, to return. There was general concern about the lack of business growth in the county. Participants expressed desire for more restaurants and varied businesses in the Town of Madison and were concerned that Madison County could just become a suburb of Culpeper and Greene if it doesn’t foster sensible growth.
Shirley Workman, director of the Madison Senior Center, said that she and many of the participants from the center found the community conversation interesting and informative.
“This gave us a chance to express our concerns about our community,” said Workman. “There are so many positives about Madison County, but I think a lot of us are worried that our county as we know it will just dry up if there isn’t a plan for encouraging business. So many of our seniors want to see more restaurants and shops here in Madison. They are worried that if there is no business here, younger people will move away to be closer to their jobs. They are hoping to see our local officials encourage some growth.”
Ginny Biggs, county resource specialist at Aging Together, was also enthusiastic about the community conversation.
“I think this helps give us an idea of what we can do to help serve our older population,” said Biggs. “It also was a great way to show the participants what is already here that they might not have been aware of.”
Similar meetings will be held in Rapphannock, Culpeper, Fauquier and Orange. For more information about Aging Together, visit agingtogether.org.