Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Growing old in rural America

Don't miss Kirk Johnson's story, "For Elderly in Rural America, Hard Times Get Harder," in the New York Times. The dateline is Lingle, Wyoming, population 510, and some of the other elderly folks he interviewed live in places like Oshkosh, Nebraska, population 887, and Torrington, Wyoming, population 5,776.

Johnson notes the debate among those who study rural America regarding whether rural elderly can stay put during these tough economic times, when many programs serving them are being cut. He quotes Teresa S. Radebaugh, director of the Regional Institute on Aging at Wichita State University, in support of the position that the "fortitude of the rural elderly simply runs too deep" for them to leave their homes. Radebaugh says, “The people will remain, because they’re rooted and anchored to the land. They'll stay no matter what.”

Here's an excerpt from the story that I found particularly interesting, even heartening:

It is in fact quite easy to find older people who take comfort in the surroundings they have known since they were young, however difficult things have become. Memory is everywhere, and hardship has been the norm in life, many say, so what’s new?

But an equally important reality, gerontologists and psychologists say, is that people who have managed to reach great age in a tough environment have, in turn, been toughened by the experience.

Attachment to place and hardship are among a range of characteristics associated with rural places that are reflected in the story, which is very poignant and well worth a read. The photos accompanying it are very powerful, too; see them here.

NPR ran a story today that picked up some similar themes, e.g., aging and population loss, but also happier ones like entrepreneurship and hope. It is here.

NB: As of noon on the day Kirk Johnson's story appeared in the print edition, it is the fifth most emailed story at

No comments: