Neighbors…in retirement communities

retirement communityMy favorite aunt had lived in New York City for fifty years. She loved New York, especially the theater and dance that were available there. In her youth, she’d been incredibly generous, inviting me to spend weekends with her. My first theater experience was a performance of My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison and Julie Andews on stage, and from age 8 on, I was her frequent guest.

As my aunt reached age 75, she began to have difficulties in her New York apartment: access to groceries meant a trek across a very busy, multi-lane street. Managing her apartment became more of a challenge. So she made the decision to move to a retirement community that offered the full range of care milieus– independent or assisted living, and nursing home care.

At first, independent living worked out well. She made many new friends, and volunteered in the local schools. She took advantage of the community outings for theater and ballet and museums. She hosted afternoon teas in her apartment.

But as she aged, arthritis and congestive heart failure began to take their toll on her mobility. When I called her one day, she told me she’d been told she could no longer go on the bus trips because she needed too much assistance from the driver. The other passengers, delightful though they were, could not help her since they, too, were in their eighties and frail.

My solution was to take off from work on those days when there was something my aunt wanted to do. If her friends were going to the theater, I made sure she got there, too. If she wanted to host a tea, but was no longer mobile enough to make and pour tea, I went and helped her host 4-6 friends. When she wanted to visit her best friend on the other coast, I traveled with her so that the two 85-year olds could see each other one last time.

The retirement community certainly enabled her to live independently for another decade and a half. But the trade-off was that because the population was so homogeneous, there were no neighbors who could really help in the simple ways they can in the larger community, And as soon as she was no longer able to function at a wholly independent level, the retirement community became perhaps more restricting than her life in New York City had become before she’d moved.

I found this very upsetting. She had paid out a hefty sum of money expecting to have her needs met in this continuing care community. Yet the only needs met there were the most basic ones of food and shelter. Residents there who had no local friends or family were at an even higher risk of the isolation, depression, and loneliness we know to be issues for this age group since there were no members of other age groups there, and limited access to the rest of the local area. While  I loved being able to give back to her in the same ways she had given to me, I was profoundly moved by the limitations of that model for aging.

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Posted on March 31, 2014, in CvilleVillage Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. This is a correction in response to MK’s story on the September General meeting. The first focus group was led by Kay Slaughter and Carol Hunt on June 5th. The following is an excerpt from the report sent to the Board.
    Our aim in the focus group was to explore in conversation issues raised by the survey by asking four sets of questions: 1) How many of you want to age where you are currently living? 2) Given that the survey identified transportation, assistance in the home, yard work as top needs for seniors at home, what are your thoughts about these as well as other areas? 3) Because CV would need resources to pay a coordinator to develop, maintain and vet a list of volunteers, agency and vendor resources, and to pay for insurance bookkeeping, rent, and other overhead expenses, would you be willing to pay a fee in the range of $360/year? 4) Whether you are receiving services or not, are there ways you might volunteer to help?
    Regarding Question 1: Four hope to remain at home, one wanted to age “someplace else” and three don’t yet know. When asked their views about what would help them to be able to remain in their homes, participants identified education and socialization as important, including information about depression and other mental health issues for seniors; types of living situations and assistance available through organizations like JABA and PACE.
    Specific types of assistance that would enable participants to remain in their homes are identified on the following chart along with the number of people agreeing to the need:
    Need Number
    1. Help inside home 6
    2. Planning meals 2
    3. Balancing checkbook 2
    4. Organizing day and activities 1
    5. Organizing transportation and shopping schedule 5
    6. Emergency transportation needs (outside Jaunt) for items like prescriptions 4
    7. Medication management (pill box) 4
    8. Education on mental health including reliable mental health assessments and medication expertise 4
    9. Help with pets 4
    10. Assistance with paper work like advanced medical directive 3
    11. Yard work 4

    When asked how they preferred to obtain this help, the following were mentioned:
    § Friends
    § Neighbors
    § JABA
    § Concierge/broker service similar to what is described as Village
    § Case manager
    § Businesses
    § Family
    · If volunteers are utilized by agency, there should be efforts to keep the same volunteer with senior for consistency and comfort level.
    Fees for services: Seven of the eight participants voted “yes” to the hypothetical fee of $360/year.
    · One person suggested a two-tiered system so that people – like himself – who do not currently need services could contribute and be recognized as a type of supporter, say at $50/$100 a year.
    · Another recommended seeking donations and grants for scholarships for people who cannot afford the yearly membership.
    · A final suggestion was quarterly payment of fee to ease burden on middle-income senior.
    Volunteering: Seven out of eight people said they would volunteer now and offered the following services:
    · transportation
    · cooking meals
    · handyman / simple house repairs
    · gardening and yard work
    · emotional guidance
    · friendly visitor
    · companionship
    · oral histories
    · picking up trash
    · walking dogs
    · care giving
    · career guidance
    · organizing art classes
    [N.B. Howard Evergreen who runs a rural housing program also offered that he has portable aluminum ramps that can be made available to seniors who need them due to incapacity because of accidents, surgery, etc.]
    Participation in the group was lively, and the leaders had to work hard to get through the agenda in 2-1/4 hours. Clearly, support and friendship are important, as one woman asked at the end of the meeting: When will we meet again?

  2. cvillevillageclipper

    My apologies to both Carol and Kay. The error was completely mine. I wrote the meeting minutes where James Quinn reported on the Focus Group he did for the Woolen Mills project, but was unaware of all the work Carol and Kay had done on an earlier Focus Group that they had done. Thank you, Carol, for submitting this correction.
    M.K.

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