UMASH Success Story: Aging on the Farm

UMASH Success Story: Aging on the Farm


There are more older workers in agriculture than in any other industry, with 1 in 3 U.S. farmers over 65 years old. The impacts of aging can make the hazardous environment of agricultural work even more dangerous.


  • Response time
  • Balance and coordination
  • Vision and hearing
These impacts are particularly dangerous when working with hazards like pesticides, equipment, animals, and driving.
UMASH learned from aging farmers and their support systems that their biggest concerns about aging on the farm were accessing healthcare, managing stress and anxiety, maintaining balance and coordination, and preventing musculoskeletal injuries.

UMASH responded to these concerns by partnering with innovative teams in the Upper Midwest.

1. We Consulted the Community

We started by listening and partnering with the agricultural community and their support systems. Aging farmers and their communities participated in a survey and two regional community forums. We asked questions like: How, as a community, can we support the health and safety of aging farmers and farm families? What are the challenges? What are the opportunities?

Participants identified the following health and safety priorities:

  • Financial worries
  • Musculoskeletal and repetitive stress injuries
  • Fatigue and sleep issues
  • Balance and coordination problems
  • Operating heavy machinery
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Access to healthcare

2. We Partnered to Implement Community-Based Projects

After listening and collaborating, we leveraged UMASH’s Emerging Issues program to partner with community organizations to fund the following innovative projects that will support healthy aging on the farm:

Virtual occupational therapy programming for farmers to reduce pain, improve balance and mobility, and continue activities of daily living.

Farmers participated in a 6-session telehealth Occupational Therapy program to help reduce pain, improve balance and mobility, and continue activities of daily living.  80% of participating farmers felt better able to manage changes related to aging after the program.

Faith-based community partners connected with local farmers to learn about their concerns and needs as they age in place on the farm

Farmers shared that their greatest challenges were maintaining their overall health and mobility, and finding help with chores. Having access to more help and adapting their home to be safer would make aging in place easier for many farmers.

Parkinson’s Disease support through at-home toolkits and telehealth programming to manage symptoms and increase independence.

Active@Home toolkits were distributed to 30 Parkinson’s patients across rural Wisconsin. The toolkits contained practical items to make physical and mental activity easier. They also offered telehealth programming to educate how to use each item to improve their symptoms. The recipients have shared that the program and toolkit items have been very beneficial in their daily lives.

Community-wide programming to enhance quality of dementia care, increase awareness, and reduce symptoms.

This project offered dementia training for healthcare providers, and hosted community gatherings to strengthen dementia support systems in their community. They created “memory loss kits” to reduce anxiety and stimulate farm memories. Over 120 physicians, nurses, and community members received the training, and the kits were checked out more than 80 times from a local library.

3. We Continue the Conversation and Share Free Resources

Based on our community-engaged work, UMASH collaborated to develop the following resources to raise awareness about and support the well-being of aging farmers.


VIDEO: Aging on the Farm

This video addresses the current aging population as it relates to farmers, farm families and workers. The average age of farmers is 58 and many choose to continue to work and live on the farm as it is a way of life.

Farming and ranching is rated one of the most dangerous and physically demanding occupations in the United States. Aging farmers are more vulnerable to injury and illness. Agriculture as an occupation presents unique challenges for retired or semi-retired farmers and employees. Rural communities often have limited access to health care. The video is intended to bring awareness as a community to the specific issues with aging in rural America. Let's start the conversation to promote the safety and health of our agricultural neighbors.

What is an occupational therapist?

Occupational Therapists (OT), among many other roles, can help individuals and their families navigate aging-related changes. OTs understand the connection between a person’s identity and their ability to engage in desired daily activities. 

Older adults living in rural communities, like many farmers, often have limited access to OT services and strategies.

Maintain Productivity and Wellness While Aging on the Farm

To support aging farmers, several students at the University of Minnesota from rural and farming communities are bringing practical solutions right to farmers’ living rooms. They have developed a series of free videos, with accompanying worksheets and resources to support healthy aging:

PART 1 - Occupational Therapy: Your Productivity and Wellness Advisor

Occupational Therapy: Your Productivity and Wellness Advisor

Part one of the series introduces Occupational Therapy (OT) as a valuable resource to farmers. The video focuses on the relationship between a farmer’s identity, sense of wellbeing, and ability to stay productive when facing challenges.

PART 2 - Practical Solutions to Maintain Productivity and Wellness

Practical Solutions to Maintain Productivity and Wellness

Part two of the series shares a wide range of practical strategies and tools for maintaining productivity and safety on the farm as physical, sensory, or cognitive changes occur. The solutions address vision and hearing changes, common aches and pains associated with arthritis, and changes in thinking and memory.

Learn more about this project

Aging and Parkinson's Disease in Agriculture

UMASH partnered with AgriSafe Network and the Midwest Center for Occupational Health and Safety to host Aging and Parkinson’s Disease in Agriculture, a webinar available on demand. Featured presenters include Averi Olson, UMASH Occupational Therapy doctoral capstone student, and Dr. Kristen Pickett, UMASH Active @ Home Partner Project lead. Learn about the effects of Parkinson’s Disease and what it means for agricultural work, and hear about rural-specific tools and resources that help maximize farmer functioning.

The webinar is available on demand, for free, and can be used to obtain Continuing Education Units for nurses, occupational therapists, physical therapists, and other professionals.

Watch the Webinar