Fall 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA4

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Energy Education for the Elderly


Carla C. Earhart
Graduate Research Associate
Department of Design, Housing, and Merchandising
Oklahoma State University-Stillwater

Margaret J. Weber
Professor and
Interim Associate Dean for Research
College of Home Economics
Oklahoma State University-Stillwater

Sue E. Williams
Associate Professor and
Specialist, Family Policy and Energy
Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service
Oklahoma State University-Stillwater

When targeting elderly clientele, Extension can't assume that what has worked for other groups will work for the elderly. These essential questions need to be answered before designing educational programs for the elderly: Are elderly clientele open to education as a tool to solve problems? What do they already know, and what effect will increased knowledge have? Is Cooperative Extension the best agency to deliver needed information to the elderly?

Our study of elderly homeowners in Oklahoma examined the energy information needs of the elderly. The results suggest that Extension will need to network with energy-related businesses to provide needed information.

Current Situation

The elderly population continues to be affected by energy costs.1 They often live in large, older homes built when energy was cheap and plentiful. Some research suggests that older persons are more sensitive to temperature extremes. Also, those on low, fixed incomes have additional burdens coping with energy costs.

Research by Stobaugh and Yergin2 indicates that households can reduce their energy usage in three ways: (1) improve energy conservation behaviors, (2) make structural modifications to existing homes, and/or (3) take advantage of the innovative designs offered by passive solar, active solar, or earth-sheltered housing. Several other means have been suggested specifically to help the elderly with their energy situation.3 These include plans for increasing overall financial aid, tax breaks for structural modifications, protection against utility service cutoffs, and direct payments for utility bills. However, these efforts may be costly to taxpayers. Education is often overlooked as an inexpensive way to reduce the energy burden on the elderly.

The Study

The population for this study was elderly head-of-household homeowners who were selected using birthdates on voter registration cards. Personal letters followed by telephone calls resulted in 30 individuals agreeing to participate in the project.

Interviews were conducted in the participants' homes. In addition to demographic information, questions related to preferences for national energy conservation strategies; personal energy conservation efforts, attitudes, and knowledge; and sources used for energy information.

The Results

From the list of conservation strategies, education was most favored by the respondents. None of the respondents scored all parts of the energy knowledge quiz correctly. A substantial number indicated they knew so little about energy conservation that they didn't know the advantages and disadvantages of the options discussed. Correlation analysis indicated that those who are better informed about energy conservation are more likely to use conservation strategies.

Respondents most frequently listed newspapers, TV, and utility companies as their sources of energy conservation information. Extension was listed by less than one-fourth of the respondents. The highest reliability was placed on information from utility companies and friends and relatives. Extension was thought to have reliable energy information by fewer than 10%.

Working with Others

Extension has the resources to provide research-based energy education programs. However, it wasn't listed as a popular or reliable source of such information. For this reason, we suggest Extension combine educational efforts with those provided by utility companies.


1. H. Brotman and C. Allan, Chartbook on Aging (Washington, D.C.: White House Conference on Aging, 1981).

2. R. Stobaugh and D. Yergin, Energy Future (New York: Random House, 1979).

3. J. Pace, "The Poor, the Elderly, and the Rising Cost of Energy," Public Utilities Fortnightly, XCV (June 5, 1975), 26-30 and U.S., Senate, "The Impact of Rising Energy Costs on Older Americans" (Washington, D.C.: 95th Congress Hearings Before the Special Committee on Aging, April 7, 1977).