Aging in rural America

People who spend their aging years in rural communities can encounter joys and challenges. Shedding light on their experiences is a new video and report from Lutheran Services in America (LSA) as part of its Rural Aging Action Network.

Titled “Lived Voices: Aging in Rural America – Stories of Independence, Community Connections and Vibrant Lives,” the new video brings stories of those aging in rural America, as well as those who care for them, into focus.

LSA’s Great Plains Senior Service Collaborative began in 2015, and it expanded in 2022 to become the Rural Aging Action Network, to address the increasing number of older adults in rural Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota experiencing social isolation and difficulty accessing services and supports to successfully age at home.

How Aging Varies

The “Lived Voices: Aging in Rural America – Cultivating a Thriving Community of Care” report conducted by ATI Advisory was commissioned by Lutheran Services in America to listen to expressions of both strengths and needs directly from older adults, caregivers, home and community-based services partners, and community leaders in rural America.

While there are many commonalities across communities and cultures at every life stage, it is critical to appreciate that experiences of aging vary from place to place and person to person. This report takes a closer look at some of the factors influencing the quality of life for older adults in the three rural Midwestern counties studied.

“One of the reasons I’m able to visit with people and one of the reasons I’m in their homes is because they know me. They trust me. They know I care about them. You know, it’s all about community and relationship.”

— Paul Schauer, Pastor, Sunne Lutheran Church in Wilton, North Dakota

Challenges and Solutions

The report analyzed core issues affecting aging adults in rural America and offered insights as well as proposed solutions that took caregivers and the community into account. Challenges like the desire to maintain independence or the need to drive long distances for care and supplies were met with ideas such as companionship transportation programs and reaching seniors in places they already frequent.

Parts of this report also share the voices of the professionals, caregivers, and unpaid volunteers – in Traverse County, MN, 100% of professionals report that caregiving is their passion. Some caregivers are older adults themselves, anticipating their own future needs. Still others simply enjoy the face-to-face interactions.

“Well the world, of course, could benefit from more Pastor Pauls, but I know there are more willing and able people that are going to step up. That’s also part of the spirit of North Dakota. That’s who we are. That’s our connection that we have with each other.”

—Reier Thompson, President & CEO, Missouri Slope Lutheran Care Center Foundation

Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies’ Aging program focuses on supporting rural older adults and tribal elders to live with autonomy and dignity in the communities of their choice through home and community-based services and supports. We seek to engage rural older adults, tribal elders, and their caregivers in their own care by supporting an integration of care coordination that improves access to services, social engagement that reduces social isolation, and strengthening the quality and availability of care provided by caregivers.