A Western Carolina University professor was an author for a recent AARP report on older American Indians that found population shifts, continuing health care issues and traditional strengths within the community.

Turner Goins, WCU’s Ambassador Jeanette Hyde Distinguished Professor of Gerontological Social Work in the College of Health and Human Sciences and a nationally known specialist in American Indian aging issues, was the lead author of the work, which examined socioeconomic and health issues among the nation’s 5.2 million native peoples. The research, writing and independent review to complete the report took nearly two years.

AARP is a national organization for people over the age of 50, serving as an advocate for members and as a lobbying group for issues related to them.

The report shows a demographic shift resulting in nearly four out of five Indians now residing in urban areas, rather than on tribal lands or reservations. The report also included recommendations for broader strategies, including inter-agency cooperation, to bring needed services to Indians living in America’s cities and other non-tribal communities.

While the report is titled “Lifelong Disparities Among Older American Indians and Alaska Natives,” Goins said she feels that “disparities” might not be the best word to reflect what the study and subsequent report determined.

“American Indian communities are tired of researchers coming in and pointing to all of the disparities and shortcomings associated with their community,” she said. “I think it is important to focus on community strengths. We have to not only focus on pointing to where the problems are, but pointing to solutions. This, in turn, helps build these community strengths.”

By 2050, the number of American Indians and Alaska Natives who are 65 and older will more than triple, and the number of those 85 years old and up will increase from 42,000 now to 300,000.

“Policymakers have much to do to address longstanding socioeconomic and health coverage disparities that have historically characterized their lives and which remain, to a large extent, unresolved,” said Debra Whitman, AARP’s chief public policy officer. “This new research presents some compelling ideas to move forward.”

With a background in public health, Goins has worked with tribal communities throughout the U.S. for nearly 20 years and has a longstanding relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Formerly the associate director of the Center for Healthy Aging Research and associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State University, she serves on the board of the International Association for Indigenous Aging. She also serves on the editorial board of The Gerontologist and the Journal of Applied Gerontology.