BRANFORD >> The unexpected overwhelmed Branford seniors Nigel and Leila Daw in October.
First, Nigel Daw, 83, hurt his back, leaving him flat out in bed. He was in terrible shape for more than two months, said his wife, 76.
Adding insult to injury, he contracted pneumonia, further challenging the normally active research scientist, who retired from Yale University, he said.
They couple already were sustaining members in Shoreline Village CT, a community of seniors committed to helping each other live independently at home.
The “village” concept offers an alternative to traditional retirement communities or nursing homes, according to the Sylvia DeSantis, Shoreline Village services director, who matches volunteers and members with active members currently using services to stay safely at home.
The community offers social and cultural activities to connect residents, sponsors educational programs and advocate for seniors, DeSantis said. SVCT provides transportation, companionship, and even a daily check-in phone call, according to DeSantis. The village also offers a Nurse Navigator Program, sponsored by VNA Community Health Care, along with professional resources such as health, legal or financial management services, according to the website.
As they dealt with new health challenges, Leila Daw also juggled several professional deadlines, said the artist whose artwork is displayed publicly at Bradley international Airport and the Wilson Branch of the New Haven Public Library.
She had to curate an art show on Long Island, finish an art competition proposal and write a book chapter about public art, said the retired art professor, who taught at Massachusetts College of Art.
When her brother died, suddenly, life spiralled further out of control, the couple agreed.
They hired a professional caregiver using the VNA Nurse Navigator Program before Leila Daw left the state and her husband behind to plan her brother’s funeral, she said.
With so much thrown at them at once, it was often difficult to cope, but the SVCT network served as an insurance policy, of sorts, DeSantis said.
At 84, Jan Tarrant continues to challenge herself daily.
She joined Shoreline Village CT to get “out of my comfort zone,” said Tarrant, who witnessed her mother slide into serious dementia. She also suffered from arthritis as she aged, the reasons Tarrant is active in ways that may save her from a similar fate, she said.
“There are things I do physically, mentally,” said the Guilford resident, who has lived here for 60 years, 56 of those years in the same two-level house in heart of Guilford.
Tarrant can’t imagine how some people willingly move away from well-known people and places, leaving for destinations such as “South Carolina or wherever,” she said.
“I love seeing familiar faces,” said Tarrant, who walks steps to the historic Guilford town Green. “People see me and call me by name, and I call them,” said Tarrant who walks to twice-weekly stretch and balance classes, and has weekly sessions with a personal trainer.
The state’s Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut offers similar resources, minus the annual fee charged by SVCT. Five Area Agencies on Aging exist in the state, divided by region. They operate as private, nonprofit planning agencies, according to the state website.
Established in 2013, the state Department on Aging works to ensure that “Connecticut’s elders have access to the supportive services necessary to live with dignity, security, and independence, according to the state. Tasked with planning, development and administration of a “comprehensive and integrated service delivery system for older persons,” the agency connects residents with a host of services, including supportive, in-home services, and home-delivered meals.
The agency also administers programs that provide senior community employment, health insurance counseling, and respite care for caregivers, according to the website.
SAFE AND SOUND
Tarrant’s exercise will keep her nimble longer, cutting the chance of falls and injuries, said Trace Van Oss, associate clinical professor of occupational therapy at Quinnipiac University.
Occupational therapists also are focused on ways to support aging in place initiatives.
“We’re working on creating a safe environment to reduce likelihood of falls in the home,” said Van Oss. Most modifications occur in the bathroom, such as adding grab bars or a bench for increased safety in the shower. Brighter lights, a higher toilet seat and bed rails can also help, she added.
Aging in Place is defined as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income, or ability level,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to safety measures, strong support networks are vital to aging in place initiatives, said Christy Kovel, senior policy analyst on aging for the state Commission on Women, Children and Seniors.
“If we are talking about older adults, you want to make sure they have an appropriate support system,” said Kovel. This can be a combination of family friends, and services required to help them function efficiently, she added.
“Have they thought of services they made need in the future?,” asked Kovel, again reinforcing the idea that, “Staying connected is the most important thing you can do.”
Connections include activities and people that contribute to an overall higher quality of life, she added.
Isolation, fall prevention and driver safety are major health issues, something best discussed in advance of the unexpected, a crisis situation that can lead to long-term care. “It’s a big issue,” said Kovel, of offering support for proactive future planning.
In crisis, the Daw’s received timely advice about hiring a professional caregiver via the Visiting Nurse Association from SVCT.
Sometimes, giving up independence willingly is difficult to do, said DeSantis. With a network of volunteers, the feat becomes easier for seniors to get help when they need it most, she added.
Asking is usually the first and hardest hurdle to getting help, she added. As a paying member of SVCT, it takes the pressure off asking for help, said Leila Daw.
Seniors “don’t want to be a burden on others,” said DeSantis, adding that transportation issues are a big way SVCT can help seniors.
“That’s where we come in,” said DeSantis. The director also takes a early-morning phone call daily from one of the active members of SVCT, she said.
Sometimes, it’s good just to hear another person’s voice, said DeSantis, who asked the woman if there were others ways SVCT could help her.
Help with the odd chore, the woman replied, DeSantis said.
Sometimes, even a seemingly simple chore, can amount to much more. Even difficulty of changing a hard-to-reach lightbulb can pose a safety risk, DeSantis said.
HEALTHY AT HOME
Making safety changes doesn’t always require professional resources. AARP offers seniors a home fit guide, to be used proactively as a safety checklist, said Van Oss.
Working with an OT, an individual assessment is made to confirm that the senior is able to get around the house safely; to wash, dress, get to appointments or work, or use services of multiple professionals for success, Van Oss said.
Even as Leila and Nigel Daw were caught off guard by multiple crises, they already had a clear idea of what they don’t want to happen in their future, they agreed.
For Leila Daw, her ideas formed while visiting her father at both a retirement and nursing home, where he died at 100, she said. Nigel’s parents both lived well into their 80s, she added. Their own longevity is “certainly something we both think of,” said Leila Daw.
Tarrant also has “definite ideas about what I need,” she said, noting that her mother was 98 when she died.
If and when the time comes, Tarrant is prepared to add help to remain in her own home. The house affords space for live-in help if “need be,” she said.
The state’s 17-member Aging in Place Task Force has examined initiatives to support aging in place, including; infrastructure and transportation improvements; zoning changes to facilitate home care; enhanced nutrition programs and delivery options; to increase fraud and abuse protections; expand home medical care options; provide tax incentives; and explore incentives for private insurance, according to the task force report.
Tarrant was pleasantly surprised by the social side of SVCT, participating in book and film clubs, and a tea and talk series, she said.
“This was definitely me moving outside my comfort zone,” said Tarrant, whose son lives two hours away.
“It’s added a lot (to) my life, knowing that I can call someone for help, without it being ‘a favor’” is extremely valuable, she added.
“People are living longer, but they want to age in communities, said Kovel. “They want walkable access, to be closer to services.”
Connecticut has one of the country’s oldest populations. In line with national trends, the population of those 60 and older is growing more quickly than other age groups. According to data supplied by the commission, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that nearly 26 percent of Connecticut’s population will be 60 and older by the year 2030, up from about 20 percent in 2014. Connecticut has the third highest life expectancy in the U.S., with a growing population over age 85, according to the US Census Bureau.
At the same time, “Everyone is very mindful of the challenging (economic) times in our aging state,” added Kovel.
Aging in Place services do vary, based on municipality, geography, demographics, individual needs, and available resources.
“We are seeing this growing need,” said Kovel. While some towns and cities have active aging-in-place networks, others are working on creating innovative solutions, Kovel said.
BEST LAID PLANS
Even if Nigel and Leila Daw didn’t plan to use services so quickly, or consider the need to make critical arrangements under so much duress, they were grateful during their crisis that they already had a strong connection to SVCT, Leila Daw said. This even included help on something seemingly simple: removing an old toilet seat that was fused with age, she said.
“One of the lovely volunteers came out and sawed it off with a hacksaw,” said Leila Daw, who installed a raised commode to insure Nigel Daw would remain safe in his weakened condition.
“We are very willing to help others too,” she added.
With a growing portion of the population dealing with similar issues today, awareness is key, said Kovel, who has seen an increase of shared services and collaboration.
“Networks of care are evolving,” said Kovel. “We all have to be more connected.”