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‘Aging in Place’ — 25443 prefers it

By Staff | Oct 23, 2009

About two years ago, a group of people in Shepherdstown started to discuss the newly-dubbed phenomenon of “aging in place,” a concept of elders remaining in their homes instead of “downsizing” and moving to “retirement communities.” They wondered whether thiscouldwork in this area? The Shepherdstown Ministerial Association adopted the question as a project and gathered a committee to investigate.

Some background: Not so many years ago, families were composed of grandparents, parents and children living under one roof. Now families are much more scattered, withelders living apart from their children, and – in many cases – in different locales.

The rise of retirement communities soon gave seniors another place to go when they no longer wanted to cope with housekeeping – with the now-familiar “three-tiered” system of independent living, assisted living and nursing facilities in one community. This works well, but it does come with an emotional price-leaving home.

A few years ago, a group of people in a Boston neighborhood decided that they would rather have another option. Under this plan, seniors would remain in their homes and assistance would be delivered to them there. Thus grew the concept which would become Beacon Hill Village. (For more info, see: http://www.beaconhillvillage.org.)

Later, this kind of community began to spring up around the country. Some are volunteer-driven, some are profit-driven, others are subscription-based. The help offered ranges from a listing of service people, like plumbers, electricians, dog-groomers, and handymen to a paid staff of social workers, nurses and drivers. Almost all include social gatherings and offer classes in exercise techniques, nutrition and t’ai-chi.

Insofar as the local project is concerned, discussion has now evolved to the stage of a more structured investigation and analysis. A series of focus groups were held and then a questionnaire, designed around information gleaned from them, was produced. A survey of residents aged 60+ was conducted in April and May of this year. Because of the semi-rural nature of our area, the project team set a limit for participation to those living in the 25443 ZIP code.

The results of that questionnaire’s responses have been compiled and sent out to respondants via e-mail. Here are the basic results:

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Profile of Respondents. One hundred and eighty-three households completed the survey. Three quarters of the households are comprised of more than one adult and one quarter are single adults. Eighty-nine percent of participants were 60 years old or more. Forty-five percent of all households include an adult living with a chronic illness or disability. Of those households, 138 or 80 percent live in the 25443 zip code.

Profile of Household Needs. In the 25443 zip code, 85 percent of respondents intend to remain in their own homes indefinitely. Respondents were asked about their current needs and future needs. The following table shows the percentages of households indicating each need area as they aged.

Anticipated Needs for Aging at Home

Home healthcare – 67%

Regional transportation (25 miles or more) – 64%

Local transportation (less than 25 miles) – 64%

Meal/grocery delivery or preparation – 60%

Errands: shopping, pet care, etc. – 57%

Contact, check-in calls, reminder calls, visits – 57%

Technical support for computers, phones – 50%

Paperwork: bills, taxes, insurance – 47%

Yardwork: lawn care, snow removal – 47%

Housework: cleaning, laundry – 46%

Handyman: household repair, maintenance – 42%

Respondents also checked any reasons why they couldn’t access services or help they needed to remain in their homes. Sixty-six percent of all households cited at least one barrier.

Barriers to Aging at Home

Do not have family members who live in the area

to provide assistance. – 40%

Not able to find help/services locally. – 19%

Do not have financial resources for services. – 12%

Household does not agree help is needed. – 6%

Interest in Services

Households were asked about their interest in an organization that might provide services to assist adults with remaining in their homes.

Twenty-three percent of households said they would probably pay to subscribe to such an organization and 61 percent indicated they were very likely to pay. The following table shows the percentage of households indicating they were interested in each service area.

Services Related to Aging at Home

A referral service that screens professionals. – 84%

Exchange services for sharing rides and assistance

with other adults. – 65%

Organized fitness and recreation classes. -55%

Organized social events. – 50%

A calling service. – 33%

Care coordination/planning service. – 26%

Next Steps. It is clear from the data that an Aging in Place Organization would benefit many households in the 25443 area. With the 25443 zip code population growth of 50+ projected to be approximately 30 percent in the next five years, this is an ideal time to begin planning for services to assist those wishing to remain in their homes.

The Shepherdstown Ministerial Association will be disseminating survey results to the community and will be looking at opportunities for increasing services in this area.

Also,a Symposium on Aging in Place (“Village to Village”) will take place in Washington later in October. Seethe Beacon Hill Village Web site (see above address) for details.

– Submitted by Jean Neely