According to the most recent 2017 census, the average age of farmers is estimated to be 57.5 years old – continuing a long-term trend for overall aging in the United States. Aging leads to a gradual decrease in physical and mental capacity, and there is a growing risk of developing age-related diseases or conditions. One of many concerns with aging is the onset of dementia. Is it just a senior moment or the beginning stages of dementia? How do farmers and caregivers cope with dementia and safety concerns on the farm?
Kanika Arora, Ph.D. and Associate Professor at the University of Iowa offers background on this topic and provides practical safety guidelines to use when working or living with someone who is experiencing signs and symptoms of the disease. This article was published in the September 2022 issue of the Alive and Well Newsletter by our colleagues at the Great Plains Center for Agricultural Health.
Dementia and Farm Safety by Kanika Arora, PhD, Associate Professor, Health Management and Policy
Over 66,000 older Iowans are impacted by Alzheimer’s disease (AD), the most common type of dementia. Additionally, over 73,000 Iowans provide unpaid informal care for people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.
Though dementia mostly affects older adults, it is not a normal part of aging. It is a progressive brain disease with gradually worsening symptoms, including problems with memory, compromised reasoning and judgment, impaired gait, difficulties with spatial and temperature perception, language deficits, and unpredictable behavior (such as wandering, anxiety, and aggression). Dementia ranges in severity from the mildest stage, when it is just beginning to affect a person’s functioning, to the most severe stage, when the person must depend completely on others for help with basic activities of daily living.
Recent work has shown that relative to other occupations, older adults with longest-held jobs in agricultural occupations experience greater odds of developing dementia. Safety is a major concern for older adults working and living on the farmstead. Dementia-related problems with memory, judgment, and mood may compound safety concerns in already hazardous farm environments, placing farm families at an even greater risk for incidents and injuries.
AGING ON THE FARM
Aging on the Farm
UMASH has partnered to find ways to support the health and safety of aging farmers, and farm families in the Upper Midwest. One of the four partner projects – Rural Minnesota Memory Loss Connection – focused on providing training to physicians, businesses, and residents to improve the care and support that patients receive in western Minnesota.