Information sources and needs of the English-speaking elderly : a study of participants in Chicago's congregate meals program
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Using a group of people aged 60 and over who participate in the congregate meals program of the Office for Senior Citizens and Handicapped (OSC/H) of the City of Chicago, the study examined the kinds of information these people received and sought most, the sources of information they relied on for help in various areas that the literature showed to be of concern to many elderly, and sources which hold unrealized potential for transmitting information. In addition, a description was given of OSC/H's information and referral program and its use of the mass media and other vehicles for communicating with Chicago's elderly. Finally, suggestions were made for OSC/H to improve its communication program in order to meet information needs and utilize potential resources identified in the study. A questionnaire was administered to more than four hundred people at sixteen of the city's ninety nutrition sites. The sites reflected a wide diversity of socio-economic subgroups found across the city's neighborhoods. The study participants were demographica1ly similar to the elderly populace of Chicago (using 1970 census data for comparison). However, like all of OSC/H's congregate diners, more often they lived alone and reported poverty-level incomes, tended to be slightly older, and were disproportionately females, compared with the general population of elderly in Chicago. The investigator noted that OSC/H does not publicize its services. Nevertheless, the principal conclusion was that participants in the study identified OSC/H as a source of information in all areas of concern more than any other single source offered as an optional response, including family members, friends or acquaintances, clergy or church groups, other social service or charitable organizations, or other sources. In addition, nearly half of the respondents, particularly women, identified OSC/H as their most frequent source of information, and approximately the same number said they often heard or read of services available to older people. However, the investigator speculated that participation in the OSC/H-sponsored meals program, where the respondents were served, tended to increase awareness of OSC/H among this population. "Neighborhood groups" elicited a substantial response where this was a choice in answering a question about sources of information for recreational/socializing opportunities. Newspapers and OSC/H personnel were identified most frequently as the channels of communication most often providing information for the elderly. In view of the high level of television viewing and radio listening among the elderly described in the literature, the relatively low ranking of television and radio as information channels was noted. Although respondents indicated they were exposed to information about health services more than any of several other kinds of social services, health was the subject that drew the most responses in an open question asking what information OSC/H should provide that it does not now provide. Of the respondents who said they rarely or never heard about services for the elderly, the largest single income group lived in poverty. It was suggested that further study be done to determine whether the elderly enrolled in this OSC/H-sponsored meals program are different from the universe of older persons and that this study be part of an updated Chicago needs assessment with an information component.