'Aging in Place' requires good fortune and support services
By Rex Rutkoski
Published: Sunday, Jan. 22, 2012
Philip Roberts is surprised at how many people just don't seem to think about it.
To the former Pittsburgh investment manager and his wife, Lorraine, planning for the next phase of one's life is a no-brainer.
While at 69, they are in good health, travel and are quite active in the community, they say they "just want to think ahead." The retirees, believing that it is better for their overall well-being, hope to remain in their Fox Chapel home for as long as they can.
Towards that goal of "Aging in Place" -- a concept that has been growing in acceptance across the nation for a number of years, describing older adults living independently in their current residence and remaining engaged in their community -- the Roberts are constructing an addition to their two-story home that will make it more practical. Initially, the space will be a sizable family room that can be turned into a bedroom, if needed.
Also, they have enrolled in Presbyterian SeniorCare's Longwood at Home program, headquartered in Oakmont, providing in-home personalized care coordination and long-term care services, which, says its director Joan Krueger, has helped its members throughout the Pittsburgh area achieve their goal of aging in place.
Theresa Unterseher, 67, and husband Ed, 70, hope the lift chairs they had installed a few weeks ago on their basement and second-floor stairs will allow them to remain in their Duquesne home where they have lived since they married in the 1960s. She and her husband, a Navy veteran who worked for Westinghouse Air Brake, have health issues and use oxygen.
"We had the house all fixed up just the way we like it before he retired. We just love it and don't want to leave," she says. "We raised two kids here. All the memories are here."
Even with his low-key demeanor, Joseph "Rodney" Chapman, 90, of Freeport is not likely to be mistaken for Jimmy Stewart. But that has not kept the World War II veteran and Freeport Post Office retired senior mail clerk and his wife, Mary, 88, (they're "Joseph and Mary," he likes to joke) from enjoying a "wonderful life with great memories" at their two-story brick home for the last 62 of their 68 years of marriage.
Chapman still drives, shops, does the cooking and is historian for Freeport United Methodist Church.
When medical issues for his wife surfaced a few years ago, the couple moved their bedroom downstairs to what had been the dining room. They already had a bath on that floor.
"It's so much easier. It's really been great," he says. "We enjoy the front porch on the swing in the summer. Sometimes, we have breakfast on the porch."
They are not alone.
A recent Associated Press poll reported that 52 percent of Baby Boomers said they did not think it likely they would move someplace else in retirement. In an earlier AARP survey, 89 percent of those age 50 and older said they would rather remain in their home indefinitely as they age.
How those goals translate into reality depends upon, among other factors, staying healthy enough and having access to adequate support services.
According to 2010 Census figures, 64.6 percent of Pennsylvania's seniors are householders, a number slightly above the national percentage.
"One of the unique characteristics of Southwestern Pennsylvania is the amount of time one generally spends living in the same household and community," says Dana Bauer of Unity Township, the vice president of Community Investments for United Way of Westmoreland County. A needs assessment by her office found that 50 percent of respondents cited inadequate support services for older adults as an issue of significant concern.
Faith in Action sites, managed by United Way-Westmoreland, and first launched in Lower Burrell in 2008, now include other locations serving residents throughout Westmoreland County. The organization's volunteer network provides in-home supportive services, including safety checks and handyman help, to ages 60 and older.
The most requested service, as it seems to be throughout the Pittsburgh region for many organizations, is transportation to medical appointments and errands. Volunteer drivers are always needed.
Ray Landis, advocacy manager of AARP in Pennsylvania, believes the aging in place trend will continue to grow as more Baby Boomers retire.
"We can't afford, as a society, to have this population institutionalized," Landis says. "We've got to look at ways to keep people in their communities and get them to services they need where they want them. The cost of that is a lot less than putting people into a nursing home or other institutional facility."
Landis thinks the "Village" movement, seen locally with Mt. Lebanon Village, also will grow. It allows people the opportunity to continue living in a home as they age and stay connected to the community. An intergenerational network of community volunteers provides support, such as transportation, home checks, social connections and cultural opportunities.
"They know they have someone to call who cares," says Ann Batemen, Village program director. "At a time in their life people feel they are losing everyone around them, we are able to bring them together so they can create a new network of friends."
Mt. Lebanon resident Gerry Branik, 82 agrees. "These people offer me a family. They really do," she says.
When aging in place is a goal, says Darlene Burlazzi, a deputy administrator of Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Area Agency on Aging, there is a need for broader support from the community, including neighbors, churches and informal support systems regarding seniors.
The agency and the state have built programming around the concept. Information, including that on senior community centers, in-home services, alternatives to nursing home care and more, is available by contacting any county Area Agency on Aging.
Housing stock in Allegheny County, as it is in many other parts of the region, is old, Burlazzi reminds, which can be a barrier to those wanting to remain in their homes. Many residences are two stories with steps both inside and out.
The National Association of Home Builders' 50+ Housing Council and the AARP have developed the Certified Aging in Place program to address the needs of the growing number of consumers requiring modifications to their residences to be able to remain in them. Local and national professionals, as well as suggestions for modifying a home to make it more comfortable, can be found via the home builders link. (tinyurl.com/6cwbdn)
One CAPS' professional, Robert Brennan of Brennan Builders in Evans City, whose company's core area is northern Allegheny County and southern Butler County, appreciates that the aging in place concept brings multiple generations together in ways current development models do not.
"This adds tremendous value to our society by bringing the wisdom and experience of our older citizens in closer contact to the younger generation," he says.
United Way's Dana Bauer says helping seniors remain in their homes strengthens the diversity of a community.
"Our elders have lessons to pass forward," she says, "and sharing these lessons with younger generations is important to their sense of self-value in the aging process."
Where to find help
Allegheny County Department of Human Services' Area Agency on Aging: www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/olderadults.aspx
Allegheny County's "Senior Line": 412-350-5460 or SeniorLine@alleghenycounty.us .
Faith in Action sites, managed by United Way, Westmoreland: www.unitedway4u.org/Faith_in_Action.php
Jewish Association of Aging: www.jaapgh.org
Mt. Lebanon Village: email@example.com
National Associations of Area Agencies on Aging: www.n4a.org
The National Association of Home Builders' 50+ Housing Council: www.nahb.org
Presbyterian SeniorCare's Longwood at Home: www.longwoodathome.org
The Southwestern Pennsylvania Partnership for Aging: 724-779-3200 or www.swppa.org
The Valley Care Association's "Home Safe Home" program: 724-266-0408 or www.valleycareassociation.org
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