The Alameda County Area Agency on Aging is continuing to ask older adults to respond to its 2024-28 Countywide Area Plan for Older Adults survey so that the agency can determine their needs and identify issues that matter specifically to senior communities.
"It's really important that older adults respond so that the county, and government in general, can have a contemporary understanding of what the concerns and needs are for older adults," Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley told the Weekly.
"People are living longer," Miley added. "So it's important that the government understands what the needs are of older adults so we can begin to provide services that are meeting those needs ... we want to make sure that they age successfully and age gracefully."
The Area Agency on Aging, also known as the AAA, is a county department that uses federal money from the Older Americans Act federal initiative to fund programs such as the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers food to senior citizens. It is also one of the major funding sources for senior centers across the county and helps fund other services such as transportation, case management and family caregiver support.
But the agency doesn't just offer these different services at random.
Every four years, AAA sends out a needs assessment survey to its older communities so that it can collect the data and incorporate it into its Countywide Area Plan for Older Adults. This year, there has been a bigger emphasis on collecting that data due to the fact that the last update to the plan happened before the pandemic.
"We're really looking at the lens of lessons learned," Jennifer Stephens-Pierre, director for the AAA, told the Weekly. "We want to take what we have found out in COVID ... and we want to make sure that we are addressing those issues in this plan."
Stephens-Pierre, who has led the agency for the last four years, said that as someone who champions elder justice and older adult services, it is important for her to hear directly from older adults about their current needs given how much has changed in regard to how the county provides and offers services thanks to the pandemic.
She also said it's important to know what services need to get updated or reimagined because the fact is that older adults were the most impacted population from COVID.
"We need our older adults to tell us if we're on target, or to help us identify issues that we may not be aware of," Stephens-Pierre said.
She said that the countywide plan, which is a living document that gets used by different departments throughout the county, will be looking to mainly address food insecurity, disaster preparedness and social isolation, which has been a huge issue for older adults prior to and after the pandemic.
However, one of the biggest challenges that she said the agency will also have to address is the digital divide that has come out of the pandemic.
Older residents have considerably felt the impact from the sudden shift to online and virtual services, according to a journal published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information titled "Overcoming the Digital Divide in the Post--COVID-19 "Reset": Enhancing Group Virtual Visits with Community Health Workers".
According to the journal, "less than one-third of Medicare beneficiaries aged over 65 years have reported digital access at home, and those aged over 75 years and with less than high school-level education are less likely to use technology for health care needs."
Stephens-Pierre said that while her agency has done things like providing older adults with iPads and helping them install Google speakers, there is still a huge educational divide in that a lot of seniors don't have access to Wi-Fi and don't know how to navigate the online world.
"As a result of the pandemic, a lot of things have switched over to online," Miley said. "If older adults don't have a sense of technology, have the devices to get connected and understand this, then they're going to be at a place where their needs aren't being responded to digitally and it's going to make them even more vulnerable as a population."
So Miley and Stephens-Pierre really stress how important it is for older adults to respond to the county survey, which will also incorporate data collected from July to August from the California Department of Aging's first ever statewide needs assessment for adults 55 years and older.
"There's a plethora of concerns out there and the issues of older adults can be minimized if they aren't speaking out and speaking up," Miley said. As someone who's a champion of older adults, I really feel it's important that we value and recognize the contribution that older adults have provided to our society, to our communities, to our families, and others and we can't do that if we don't understand their needs and concerns."
"We need to hear from you," Stephens-Pierre said. "don't let us guess what's best for you ... this is the chance for older adults to be at the table to tell us what their needs are."
The county's survey has been extended until Oct. 31 and can be accessed at www.surveymonkey.com/r/ACCWAP24-28.