Focus and Health Care

Local organizations provide services to support aging in place

September 25, 2015
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Aging in Place
Courtesy Thinkstock

The vast majority of American seniors would prefer to “age in place” — remaining at home as they grow older.

The AARP Public Policy Institute and the National Conference of State Legislatures released a research report in 2011 indicating nearly 90 percent of individuals age 65 or older would like to stay in their home for as long as possible.

As the number of those who are 65 and older continues to grow in the United States, organizations throughout Kent County are providing services and resources for that older population to help them remain in their home and neighborhood as they age.

The aging in place concept is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the “ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently and comfortably regardless of age, income or ability level.”

Joanne Feutz, an occupational therapist at Disability Advocates of Kent County, said aging in place is not necessarily a new concept — but is all about choice and opportunity.

“It is giving everyone a choice and opportunity to remain in their own home, stay in their own communities or neighborhoods if they choose; or give them the education, knowledge and resources so they could choose to live wherever they want,” said Feutz.

Jeff Swain, president of Homewatch CareGivers, said from early on the organization has been presenting the option and providing services to help people stay and age in their home.

“At Homewatch CareGivers, we help with important tasks such as transportation, bathing, meal preparation, laundry, memory care and companionship,” said Swain.

“In many ways (aging in place) is a very simple concept. … It takes a lot of planning and certainly an eye toward safety to make it happen.”

Grand Rapids-based Homewatch CareGivers offers a number of home health care and home services to older adults, including: skilled nursing, physical therapy, pain management, prescription management, personal grooming, personal errands and assistance moving around the home.

Through the Kent County Senior Millage, roughly 65 agencies provide services to those older adults who want to remain in their home, according to Feutz.

“There are about 50 services that are offered to adults 60 and over in Kent County,” said Feutz. “It is a variety of different services, anywhere from transportation to home modification to home delivered meals to dental care and home care.”

The Kent County Senior Millage was originally approved in 1998 for eight years, and supported in both 2006 and 2014. In 2015, more than $9 million from the millage is going toward funding the services, which are administered by the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan.

One of the county-supported services includes “Aging in Place: Training and Support” classes provided by Disability Advocates of Kent County.

“The reason we came up with these ideas for the aging in place classes is because we work with individuals one-on-one and we see over 300 older adults a year with our one-on-one home evaluations and equipment loan program,” said Feutz.

“We thought about how we could reach more seniors, so we came up with classes that would help a lot of people stay safe in their home.”

The six group education classes are offered to those 60 and older who reside in Kent County There is a suggested donation fee of $5. Classes include: understanding benefits; accessing community resources as needs change; fall prevention tips; tools and adaptive devices around the home individuals can use; surgical or unexpected illness preparation; and energy conservation techniques.

“(The classes) run on demand. We have held them at senior retirement villages, we have held them at senior centers, we have held them at churches — wherever the community wants to come to these classes,” said Feutz.

Disability Advocates also has an aging in place advocate who works on system-wide changes throughout Kent County to develop a more age-friendly community, according to Feutz.

“Our numbers of older adults in Kent County are skyrocketing, and what we do at Disability Advocates is work for systems change,” said Feutz.

“We are not just working with individuals and doing group classes; we also have an advocate who works on systems changes — like having transportation throughout the county so older adults who want to take advantage of some of the venues or doctors’ appointments can reach them.”

Disability Advocates of Kent County’s systems change advocacy seeks to reduce or eliminate barriers to independent living through community education and engagement, new or amended legislation and policies, and development and coordination of resources, according to its website.

The organization also focuses on improving accessibility of spaces, such as libraries and retailers, according to Feutz.

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