Poverty is the most pervasive problem facing American Indian elders, a scientist at the Kansas University Gerontology Center said during a presentation at Douglas County Senior Center's Native American Day on Thursday.
K. Robert John, an associate scientist at the Gerontology Center who has taught at KU and Haskell Indian Junior College, said more services are needed to assist older American Indians.
In his presentation, "Population Growth, Health Status and Changing Needs among American Indian Elders," John said comprehensive services for elders simply don't exist.
Poverty is the major problem for older Native Americans, John said. He said Native Americans are more likely to be impoverished than any other ethnic group in the United States.
And he said the problem is compounded because the Native American population primarily is made up of young people and elders. There are few middle-aged people, John said.
"This lack of middle-aged people constitutes a care-giving problem," John said.
John said Native Americans represent the fastest-growing population in the United States. In 1980, there were 1.4 million Native Americans in the nation, John said. By 1990, the number of Native Americans had jumped to 1.9 million, he said.
IN 1980, there were 108,000 Native Americans over age 60 in the United States. By 1990, that number had increased to 165,000, John said.
Studies have shown that minority elders in general, and especially Indian elders, under-utilize social services.
John also said that Indian elders' health needs are changing. The causes of death for Native Americans are changing, John said.
"It's not TB (tuberculosis) anymore. Or it's not pneumonia anymore," John said.
Instead of infectious diseases, Native American elders are facing more chronic diseases now, John said, adding that the leading cause of death for Indians over age 65 is cardiovascular disease, followed by cancer.
"So the growth of the population is incredibly rapid, and the health of American Indians is changing," he said. "The question to Indian communities is: How are they going to deal with the long-term care needs of American Indians?"
ALTHOUGH he mainly discussed problems facing American Indian elders, John stressed that "the story does not have a sad ending."
Although he said that programs for Native American elders are not comprehensive enough to meet the needs of the older population, agencies are now "doing more for Indian elders than at any other time before." He said the Administration on Aging and the Social Security Administration both have begun to do outreach work with older Native Americans.
John was one of several speakers featured at Native American Day. Other speakers and their topics were Steve Jansen, the history of Haskell; Archie Hawkins, life on the Oglala reservation; Debra Engstrom, the Medicine Lodge Peace Treaty; and Daniel Wildcat, Columbus' legacy from the perspective of a Native American.
Local artist Laurie Houseman-Whitehawk showed slides of her work, and Clinton Leon presented slides of jewelry, sculpture and pottery by Haskell students. The Museum of Anthropology, The Tall Grass Gift Shop at the Lawrence Indian Center and Native Creations exhibited Native American artifacts, jewelry and crafts.