A recent American Society on Aging Journal, “Generations” devoted the entire issue to Aging in Community, asaging.org. Being a social worker working with older and their families for many years always draws me to professional publications and programs that deal with the issues.
It was on a recent vacation with friends that I began reading this issue about how, where and what worries older adults who are approaching or in the midst of retirement. It’s not just an objective interest in this either since I am one of those older adults who is trying to figure it out.
El Dorado County has one of the fastest growing segments of older adults in California with percentages of 65 and older and 85 and older well above the rest of the state. According to the ASA, those individuals 85 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. Centarians (more than 100 years old) around the country have grown 66 percent in the last 30 years.
Living longer in the foothills has benefits but also presents challenges. We’re living here out of a metropolitan area for a reason. Many of us chose to relocate here as others decided a long time ago to stay. And so, we are all aging in place these days, a current term that means we’re hoping to remain in our own homes — in place. Miles can separate us particularly if an adult child and family live in El Dorado Hills or Folsom with parents who are in Somerset or South Lake Tahoe. All is well until there’s an accident or a health crisis where the distance becomes more difficult.
It was the repeat of these circumstances multiple times over that eventually forged the new community of Beacon Hill Village in 1999. This approach emphasizes friends and neighbors being there for one another as they age rather than each person having to face it alone. This new sense of community has led to others around the country forming an almost grass-roots organization based on the needs and wishes of older adults to support each other. This model brings like-minded individuals together to maximize their well-being, “improve their quality of life and maximize their ability to remain, as they age, in their homes and communities.”
So now here we are ready to look at these issues as we look in the mirror every morning.
Financial security, housing issues, long-term care, health concerns and caring for another all affect us now or in the future as we age. According to ASA, one in five single women who are 65 and older were living alone in 2012 and were impoverished. More than half of retirees have less than $25,000 in savings, excluding the value of their homes and pension plans (Helman et al., 2013). If a couple retired in 2013 the estimated need for medical expenses throughout their lives is $220,000. Housing concerns and future needs are at the top of the list. Many people, once they begin looking, realize they are in the middle. They do not have the financial resources to enter a Continuing Care Retirement Community that may require up to $220,000 to enroll but may have too many financial resources to qualify for public services such as Medi-Cal or In-Home Supportive Services.
In the past 15 years since Beacon Hill groups continue to convene around the country to talk about the challenges they experienced with aging family members and now, were beginning to face themselves. Different areas of the country developed over the years a model of Aging in Community that addressed the needs in that community. In nearby Davis, elder co-housing was developed under Glacier Circle Senior Community. The groups admit it usually takes time, sometimes years to be able to work together toward a shared goal, principally to create a member-directed path for supporting one another as they age. Challenges of conceptualization, planning, financing, managing and governance were overcome to reach the goals of the group. Regardless of the time constraints and challenges, the groups went on to create intentional communities “of mutual support and caring so as to enhance their well-being and improve their quality of life. This is the essence of aging in community.”
Something is still missing when there is an expectation that home modifications, telehealth monitoring and a part-time in-home helper will provide all the needs the person has. The missing piece is likely to be the social support systems that have dwindled to due losses, relocation and placement in assisted living facilities. This lack of socialization with ones’ peers can create social isolation and loss in a sense of self-worth. Taking care of safety needs is important but there is a need to maintain a sense of self-esteem and self-actualization that comes with interaction with others.
With the numbers of older adults rising every day, there will be recognition of the value of aging in community on a more formalized way. Once individuals begin to look at their older years and recognize their own aging with cultural values and economic realities, perhaps the discussion can begin here in our county. Consumers can and will direct aging in community models which will meet the needs of themself and others, will look at the whole person in its approach and will be customized to the expectations and needs of the community.
Co-housing, shared housing and other alternative models have yet to be developed in El Dorado County. The ASA article compares this concept with organic foods, recycling and alternative medicine, some years ago just a novel concept that today are accepted realities. As the county begins to talk about development once again, let’s not forget the older adults already here and those ready to move here. Working together to acknowledge the aging of the population and recognizing the collective wisdom along with needs will help start the conversation toward Aging in the Community.
Carol S. Heape, MSW, CMC is CEO of Elder Options Inc., providing care managed home care & family meetings since 1988 in the Sacramento Region, elderoptionsca.com.