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Wednesday, July 21,2010

Graceful aging

Overcoming the "multi-billiondollar-aging-industrial complex"

by Gretchen Cochran

If it’s Wednesday morning, Ray Shunk is donning his skunk-skin hat and trekking down to the Eastside’s Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing. There he is meeting up with Peggy Woods, 85, and about 20 others for the weekly Discovery Group meeting. It is an interest group for seniors that has become a social lifeline for some.


Meetings include trips, speakers on topics like “a Day in the Life of a Police Dog” or various candidates’ pre-election positions. There will never be Bingo, nor a speaker about chronic disease, something they are too familiar with already.


The members are independent-minded and typical of the fastest growing sector of the U. S. population: those over 80 years. They do not look favorably on moving to a nursing home.


They
want to age in the community and “overcome the multi-billion-dollar
agingindustrial complex trying to put us into prefabricated generic
slots in nursing homes,” says Raines Cohen, a Northern Californiabased
guru on senior housing alternatives. "To
age in place,” as the bureaucrats would say. Coming right behind them
are the baby boomers, a group that has had fewer children than previous
generations and is less likely to be married, meaning reduced
traditional support systems as they age, according to the Centers on
Communicable Diseases.


Woods
is beating the odds. She is remarkably healthy, walks to Frandor and
takes the bus home. The former nurse has lived in her one-story home on
Fairview Avenue for 30 years and is still able to care for her yard
with help from her daughter and grandson.


She
knows her grandson will move on and she doesn’t want her daughter to
worry about her. So she is particularly intrigued with a city-funded
experiment called Eastside Living that may assist in maintaining her
house as well as shore up her social support system.


The
experiment comes out of a uniquely qualified group of 60-somethings:
Dorothy Boone was with the Michigan State Housing Development Authority
for 30 years before she became Lansing’s development director; Joan
Nelson, 61, director of the Allen Neighborhood Center, lives in a
large, old house with growing maintenance problems; Lynne Martinez, 62
and between jobs, is a former legislator, former director of the
Greater Lansing Housing Coalition and daughter of a mother who just
left a nursing home because she hated it; and Dave Muylle, a builder
who has long talked of creating a cluster of senior cottages in Lansing
for his own parents. Each of them faces decisions about their own and
their families’ futures.


Put
those heads together and you get a $10,000 Community Development Block
Grant to the Allen Neighborhood Center to conduct a one-year pilot
program that would offer a range of services to help people remain in
their homes.


Martinez
conducts surveys to determine the kind of services residents over 50
years old might want. She is also designing a business plan, striking
deals with businesses and service providers like plumbers and
carpenters who would work for reduced rates.


Nelson
already knew of the Beacon Hill Village, which was started in 2001 in
an upscale neighborhood of Boston. A basic program offering services
and support for seniors has now evolved into a national movement. There
are 50 operating Village organizations across the United States and one
in Australia. The ANC joined the Village program, receiving a mentor
and guidelines, but opted not to form a franchise, hoping to create a
program unique to Lansing. Village services typically include
information referrals, home health care, access to transportation
service and assistance with household tasks.


Paramount
in the program’s design will be inclusion for all incomes, perhaps with
a sliding scale or scholarships. Woods projects she’ll need such a
service when she’s 90 years old.


“Eastside Living will be a nice service to have down the road,” she said.



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