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Only 1 of every 8 older Utahns live in rural areas

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) Lou Calder, a long-time resident at The Wellington Senior Living, receives a bouquet of flowers during her 105th birthday celebration at the senior living center in Salt Lake City Wednesday, September 17, 2014. Calder was celebrating her birthday during a Luau party at the center.

Nationally, more than one of every five older Americans now live in rural areas. But that’s not the case in Utah, according to a Census Bureau report.

In the Beehive State, the number is nearer to only one of every eight — with the vast majority of older residents, 86.9%, living in urban areas.

That may mean that Utah’s rural areas face somewhat fewer challenges to serve the needs of the growing number of seniors than similar areas around the country.

“An older, increasingly rural population requires specialized medical and rehabilitation services, as well as innovative housing and public transportation options” — which rural areas often lack, the study notes.

It expects such rural challenges to worsen nationally as members of the large Baby Boom generation born between 1946 and 1964 becomes seniors. But numbers suggest that perhaps such problems will affect fewer seniors here.

“Most Utahns in general live in urban areas,” said Pam Perlich, senior demographer at the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Institute. “We are one of the most urbanized areas in the nation. We live in a desert, so water really does direct where people live,” and almost all Utahns live along the Wasatch Front.

“Retirees often want to have access to good medical care. And you know in the Wasatch Front area, we have good medical care,” Perlich said. “So it’s hard to make the case that you would see a very, very large increase in retiree migration to some of the more remote areas.”

Still, she says rural areas likely will see some growth in the numbers of seniors and their challenges.

For example, she said in the 1970s and 1980s many Baby Boomers migrated away from rural areas to seek jobs in cities. As they retire, some may return to family land — or seek the recreation and beautiful vistas of such areas.

“Some of the rural counties are trying to attract retirees as a form of economic development,” she said, “because they bring with them independent income, and they’re not going to be engaged in things like graffiti or mischief.”

So she said she could see the demand for such things as telemedicine and similar services increase in rural areas.

The report says Utah ranks No. 9 among the states for having the smallest percentage of its seniors living in rural areas, just 13.1%.

The states with the smallest percentages were New Jersey (5.8%), California (7.1%) and Nevada (8.2%).

States with the largest percentages of their older populations living in rural areas were Vermont (65.3%), Maine (62.7%) and Mississippi (50.3%).

Nationally, 22.9% of seniors live in rural areas.

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