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Tip: Study shows changes for older LIers

Are you prepared for your old age? Is Long Island? You and the government may need to make changes in the years ahead, according to a new study.

"Long Island Senior Needs Assessment Survey," prepared by the Long Island Center for Health Policy Studies and the Stony Brook University Center for Survey Research, analyzed issues facing local seniors and offered recommendations on how to minimize future problems. It was completed in November.

The snapshot of Long Islanders 65 and older is largely upbeat. Only 4 percent said their health was poor. The vast majority said they had no difficulty going shopping, getting to medical appointments or visiting friends and family. About 76 percent said they had someone they could rely on if they needed help with daily activities or preparing meals. But a look inside the data raises sobering questions as society prepares for a tsunami of aging boomers. The study involved phone interviews made to 842 targeted households. Responses were categorized into three age groups: 65-74 (48 percent of respondents), 75-84 (37 percent) and older than 85 (15 percent). Not surprisingly, the older the people were, the more likely they were to have poor health or difficulty getting around.

"The main method of transportation for Long Island is the car," says Renee Pekmezaris, vice president of Community Health and Health Services Research at North Shore-LIJ Health System and the study's principal investigator. "But there are plenty of people that don't live within walking distance of fruits and vegetables or a pharmacy. How are they going to get around when they give up driving?"

Those who rely on a spouse or a grown child for help may see that support system crumble if the spouse dies or gets sick and their children continue the trend of leaving Long Island for jobs or affordable housing. Among the study's recommendations are expanding meal-preparation programs for homebound seniors and increasing resources that provide visits and telephone checks to older people who live alone.

The study found that 67 percent of respondents lived in their communities for 30 years or longer. Many homes are not adapted for the needs of older residents, raising the risk of falls. This issue can be minimized by better education and awareness.

"One of the biggest problems and challenges in fall prevention is that a lot of older people do not feel they are at risk for falling, and indeed they are," Pekmezaris says.

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