Aging in Place: It Takes a Village

Aging in Place: It Takes a Village

“Aging in Place” I doubt the phrase has been been focus-grouped; it sounds geological, staid. However, as the advanced warning systems of Old Age begin to register, it’s what most of us say we want. Rather than senior living communities, old age homes, or assisted living, we want to live in our own place.

The warning signs for me came about a decade ago. I was in my mid-60s. My mother, who is 18 years older than I, was beginning to show signs of dementia. She also began to experience a series of health crises resulting in hospitalizations, followed by rehab before returning home to her apartment. Mom is relatively secure financially; she has excellent health insurance, a modest retirement account and has paid off her mortgage.

Especially after a couple nursing home stays for post-hospitalization rehab, Mom was adamant about wanting to stay in her own place. Even the four-star-hotel-like assisted living complex where we dined when I visited during her rehab stays turned her off. However, she had given little thought to what kind of supports she would need to be able to continue to live on her own.

Hospitalizations seemed to exacerbate the dementia. It became clear that Mom was no longer able to manage her own affairs and that she had made few preparation for transferring those responsibilities. The family rallied, as did Mom after her last hospital stay. She refused offers from me and my siblings to have her move in with one of us.

So, we became quick studies in elder care. I found Jim Comer’s When Roles Reverse: a Guide to Parenting Your Parents particularly helpful. We hired a caregiver to come in a couple hours a day to fix Mom’s meals, make sure she gets her meds, get her to appointments, shop, etc. We got her a medical alert system and installed a couple online cameras in her apartment that we can check from our own computers at any time. Her living will and Do Not Resuscitate orders are in order.

After each crisis, we increased caregiver hours, made safety adjustments to the apartment, etc. Following her last hospitalization, which she barely survived a couple years ago, we signed her up with a hospice Navigator program; next crisis, instead of going to the hospital, hospice care is initiated.

The experience with Mom opened my eyes to how much help I will need, sooner or later, as I continue to live way beyond my statistical life expectancy. I do not want my kids burdened with trying to figure out what to do with Dad when Dad can’t do for himself.

For years, I’ve nurtured a fantasy of growing old in an “intentional” community. Since the 1960s, I’ve also experienced a wide range of communal living situations. For a while my fantasy envisioned the dozen homes in our cozy, double-cul-de-sac neighborhood in the Boise foothills. Then, those homes started going on the market at prices way out of the range of my vision.

In my elder-care research I learned of the Village movement, which started in Boston’s Beacon Hill neighborhood at the turn of the century. The Village concept appeals to me because it attempts to achieve many of the goals of an intentional community without the need for members to move into a commune. Lack of geographic proximity is overcome and many of the inherent difficulties of “living in community” are avoided through communication and organization of resources.

When I returned to Boise from one of my trips to Ohio to visit Mom, I told Diane Ronayne, my wife, about the Village concept. That was in 2012. The rest is history, which you may read here. It is four years later; Boise at Home, Boise’s “Village,” is off and running thanks largely to Diane and Boise elder-law attorney Susan Graham.

This week, Natalie Galucia, director of the national Village to Village Network is in Boise to address the 2016 summit on Elder Abuse and Exploitation. The topic: Aging in Place: Safely, Securely and Independently.

If you’d like to meet Natalie, there’s a public reception for her Monday, June 20, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Riverside Hotel, co-sponsored by JAVA (Justice Alliance for Vulnerable Adults) and Boise at Home. The summit conference is Tuesday, June 21, 2016, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the BSU SUB. Ms. Galucia is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at 9:20 a.m. A panel (including Diane Ronayne) will follow, responding to Natalie’s remarks. Other speakers will address: resources for aging in place, home safety, senior living decisions, communicating across generations about life transitions and red flags of abuse/exploitation.

Oh, and let’s come up with something less staid than Aging in “Place.”