Down on the Farm: Rural Elderly at Risk

SciShort_11_19_15Researchers from OSU and Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) have released new findings in The Journal of Rural Health that suggest the rural elderly are at increased risk for a wide variety of health problems. The main factor isn’t anything as nefarious as bacteria or other microscopic organisms, but rather the simple reality of barriers between the rural elderly and places to get health care.

This may seem like an obvious fact of life for those who live in places with fewer doctors, less advanced equipment, and other factors of the geographic variety. But the publishing of actual data culled from these at-risk populations is invaluable in quantifying the problem.

Leah Goeres is a postdoc who was the leader on this research project. She commented in a press release on the value of the data.

“It’s been known for some time that health care is harder to access in rural areas, and this helps us better understand the extent of the problem. Many physicians do the best they can in rural areas given the challenges they face, but there are fewer physicians, fewer specialists, a higher caseload,” said Goeres. “Doctors have less support staff and patients have less public transportation. A patient sometimes might need to wait months to see a doctor, and have to drive significant distances. Adverse effects can increase from taking multiple medications.”

Another thing to be mindful of is the cascading nature of health problems for the elderly. One problem leads to a larger problem if untreated, causing a storm of different problems and soon it’s too late. And of course as hard as it may be to find health care that’s far away when one is healthy, it’s even more arduous when one is ill. Goeres makes no bones about the seriousness of the situation.

 “These are real barriers to choice and access, and they affect the quality of care that’s available.”

By Sidney Reilly