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Agency says it has difficulty getting seniors to use centers

March 30, 2000|By RICHARD F. BELISLE, Waynesboro

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - People over 60 make up 20 percent of Franklin County's population, but getting them to come to the county's seven senior citizens centers has proven difficult, members of the Area Agency on Aging said during a Wednesday "town meeting."

The centers, including Tuscarora Senior Activity Center, where the meeting was held, offer meals, recreation and help with problems affecting older residents.

"Many seniors feel like they're stepping down when they go to a senior center," one man at meeting said. "The center is a place where you go to learn, not just go to."

Others said there is a misconception among many older residents that only poor people go to senior centers.

"It's an image problem that we have to fight," said Margaret Bream, manager of the seven centers.

"We have to change the image of who we are and what the centers are," one woman said. "It's better to come to the center than stay home an watch the soaps."

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Wednesday's meeting was the last of three held this month to hear from seniors on what they see as their greatest needs over the next four years. The agency is preparing its next four-year plan.

The first town meeting was held in Chambersburg, Pa., and the second in Greencastle, Pa.

Karen Griemsmann, director of community services for the Area Agency on Aging, said about 25 people attended each of the meetings.

According to the agency, one in five of Franklin County's 128,644 residents are 60 or over. By 2020 the number is projected to reach one in four. More than 2,200 live below the poverty level.

The largest concentrations of older people in Franklin County live in the boroughs of Chambersburg and Waynesboro and in Guilford and Washington townships, according to the agency.

The agency mailed out 3,300 surveys seeking opinions on what older residents see as their greatest needs. About 1,200 were filled out and returned.

The survey raised questions on transportation needs, care of a loved one at home, wills and powers of attorney, the cost of medications and whether they are taken properly, housing and suggestions for new services.

The survey also sought information on which services are most used by residents - senior activity centers, in-home care, transportation or referrals to other agencies for help.

The issue of older drivers also came up in the discussion. According to the agency, drivers over 75, like those under 25, have higher accident rates than middle-aged drivers.

The suggestion of establishing a driving age limit drew groans of protest.

"There shouldn't be any age limit, only medical limits," one woman said. "Only a doctor should say when you can't drive any more."

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