Sep. 19, 1997 Writer: Cathy Keen -- (352) 392-3140
Source: Stephen Golant -- (352) 371-0797
GAINESVILLE, Fla. --- The Sunshine State is the sunset state for many of the 75,000 elderly people whose needs are left unserved in government subsidized housing, says a University of Florida researcher.
While the popular image of Florida retirees includes retirement centers with tennis courts and golf courses, those who live in government housing are more likely to be frail, ignored or subject to the whims of their apartment managers, said Stephen Golant, a UF gerontology professor who is launching a statewide, 19-month study of the problem. The study is funded by the Chicago-based Retirement Research Foundation through a $170,000 grant to UF.
Given the state's sizeable elderly population and the wave of aging baby boomers, the findings could provide guidance for the rest of the nation, he said.
"The many older people who live in rent-subsidized housing are among the state's poorest and most vulnerable residents," Golant said. "The CASERA Project -- Creating Affordable and Supportive Elder Rental Accommodations -- is the first Florida study designed to understand the needs of an older population that, to a large extent, has been ignored.
"There's a misunderstanding that because these people are in government subsidized housing that somehow their needs will be automatically taken care of," Golant said. "This simply is not the case. Federal programs are small and erratically funded."
Because residents of subsidized housing are largely female with little education and no economic clout, managers often determine whether they remain in their apartments or are forced to move to nursing homes or someplace else with more supervision once they become frail, Golant said.
"These older people are much more subject to administrative rules and the influence of housing managers than they would be if they lived in their own home or in a private apartment building," he said. "Their mishaps and illnesses are much less a private affair."
Nationally, about 25 percent of older people living in low-income housing suffer from some form of frailty, making it difficult for them to get around and take care of themselves, whether it is shopping, cooking or bathing, Golant said. About 7 percent experience problems with mental functioning, ranging from occasional memory lapses to the early stages of Alzheimer's disease, he said.
When an elderly resident of government housing breaks a hip and must spend months recovering in a rehabilitation center, the housing manager may decide it is too costly to keep the patient's apartment vacant and rent to someone else, he said.
The aim of the UF study is to determine not only the extent of frailty among people 62 and older living in rent-subsidized housing in Florida, but also how apartment managers, service providers and state programs can help tenants deal with their frailties and which care strategies are likely to work better than others.
The study's ultimate goal is to help elderly residents of low-income housing be able to age in their homes, Golant said. "Otherwise these people become prime candidates for nursing homes at taxpayer expense," he said. "Because they are poor, they can't afford to pay for their own long-term care.
"Sometimes if an elderly person can receive just a little assistance, perhaps in the form of a personal aide coming to help with grooming or a bath, it may mean the difference between staying in what has become home and having to move out," Golant said.
There also is a benefit for housing managers: an economic incentive for knowing which services their tenants could use to avoid major health problems, Golant said. By helping elderly residents stay put, managers can avoid the hassles of apartment turnover, such as advertising for new occupants or cleaning and painting rooms, he said.
Such measures have the potential to reach a large and forgotten group of state residents, said Golant, who plans to survey Florida's apartment managers, service providers and directors of housing authorities.
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