Growing old gracefully certainly has a delightful ring to it. Perhaps we picture ourselves flitting about our homes, doing much of the same things we’ve always done, living out the days surrounded by family, friends and the greater community we love.
According to both national and local surveys about 90% of older adults (age 60+) want to stay in their homes. However, for many, the decision is not quite that simple.
Tina King, executive director of the New River Valley Agency on Aging, says there are five main factors to consider when weighing the decision of how, and where, to best age gracefully.
Housing: Is your home affordable? Is it accessible; are you able to move around the house without issue? Are there many fall hazards? Is the upkeep manageable? Are there attentive neighbors nearby?
Health and Wellness: Approximately 70% of older adults need some form of routine care. Regularly “checking-in” on your overall wellness is key. Are you still maintaining good health? Do you have any chronic conditions? Are you still able to accurately administer medication?
Transportation: Are you still able to drive safely? Is there reliable public transportation nearby?
Personal Finance: Are you able to support yourself on a fixed income? Have expenses been evaluated? Is all estate planning up-to-date?
Social Connections: Combating social isolation when deciding to age at home is huge. Local AARP chapters and parks and recreation departments with active senior programs are good places to start. The NRV Agency on Aging has many resources to help older adults make connections. The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program for adults 55+ provides a way to give back to the community. The Friendship Café program organizes lunch dates, meal deliveries, shopping trips and speaker presentations two to three days a week. Additionally, the NRV Time Bank is a neighbor-to-neighbor exchange of skills and special abilities that is currently 150 members strong.
The NRV Agency on Aging started in 1975 and serves the counties of Floyd, Giles, Montgomery, Pulaski and the City of Radford with funding primarily through the Older Americans Act. King also heads up the Aging in Place Leadership Team, a group focused on navigating the choice to stay at home after retirement. They distribute a comprehensive workbook to help families walk through the fine details, even down to evaluating the handles on kitchen cabinets.
“We’re all about keeping someone in their home as long as possible, but not if it’s against their best interest,” King states. On that note, if physical or mental abilities begin waning, the agency employs care coordinators who help facilitate appropriate conversations with caregivers.
Gloria Roberts, an 87-year-old Blacksburg resident, recently moved to English Meadows in Blacksburg. It was a decision she and her family made after Roberts had several surgeries that required significant post-op care. Having her medication managed by someone else is one of Roberts’s favorite aspects. “It is a relief to me that I do not have to worry about that now. If an emergency arises, I know someone will be there immediately to assist me if needed,” Roberts offers.
Her daughter, Leslie Roberts Gregg, is pleased with the move. “Our family realized that once mother was released from the hospital and rehab care, it would be beneficial to find a place where she would get daily monitoring to address her medical needs as well as opportunities to be in a more social environment. Living on a rural farm and not being able to drive anymore was making her too isolated from community and friends.”
One of the first people Mrs. Roberts met was Tony Campesini, 80. “Tony greeted us immediately with a welcome and has been a friend since day one – along with many of the other residents. He is a pure joy – taking time with many of the residents, helping others, and taking care of the vegetable and herb garden,” Gregg relates. He and his late wife Betty fell in love with Blacksburg passing through and decided this was the place to retire.
What does Tony like best? “Friendship first! I love that there are people from different walks of life here and how close the residents become as they get to know each other.” Friendship and socializing positively contribute to quality of life in every decade.
The Aging in Place Leadership Team, along with the New River Valley Livability Initiative, the Community Housing Partners Design Studio and the New River Valley HOME Consortium, has created a guidebook called “Home Matters.” It aims at designing and implementing lifespan-friendly homes, neighborhoods and communities which consider the social aspect of aging and reducing isolation.
The old Prices Fork Elementary School project is a prime example of this way of thinking about housing. Former classrooms have been turned into a mix of market value and low-income apartments for folks 55 and older. A manufactured community can be a very workable bridge between aging at home alone or moving into a long-term care facility. Shared housing allows people to collectively support each other while helping them stay as independent as possible.
Getting out to the community centers, library, senior activities, volunteer or part-time work, church, music events and farmers markets help older folks feel engaged and energized. One lady who no longer could drive was given two sets of season tickets by her kids for Christmas each year to musical performances at Virginia Tech. She tapped different friends with a car and both would head out for concerts.
A home is a home because of the love and warmth and life an individual brings into it. Otherwise, it’s just a house. After all, Dorothy eventually realized, despite adventuring to new surroundings, that she had really been home all along.
Text by Nancy S. Moseley
Nancy Moseley is a freelance writer from Blacksburg who watches Wizard of Oz at least once a year, but she still finds the flying monkeys creepy.