Home Alone

In late 2013 Sharon and I founded Age-Friendly Innovators (www.agefriendlyinnovators.org) a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization with a mission to help older adults safely stay in their home for as long as possible.  This is called “aging-in-place.”  Perhaps you have come across this term as it is appearing in the mainstream press (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc.) quite often.  As a matter of fact if you are interested in these articles I have linked many of them to our Facebook page www.facebook.com/agefriendlyinnovation.  They make great reading and have a lot of good ideas.

One project underway by Age-Friendly Innovators is the development of a Fall-Risk, Home Safety and Accessibility Assessment tool that we hope to convert into an “app.”  The assessment tool consist of a fall-risk assessment based upon Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) research, a health profile with 32 questions to better understand the health of the resident and 87 specific questions relating to home accessibility, fall hazards and fire risk.  Late last year we received a grant from the Chaney Foundation to conduct 50 free in-home assessments as part of the beta testing of the app.

To date Sharon and I have conducted dozens of assessments.  It is a delicate task to be invited to meet with someone (most often a single woman) in their home to discuss health issues, fall risk and accessibility.  However, fall prevention is a high priority for older adults and we have written on that subject in previous blogs.

What we have learned to date is that each and every home situation we encounter is unique.  However, there are some common threads.  In the case of older single women often times the “home” is the last remaining vestige of a long happy marriage where the husband has passed and there is a sense of loss and loneliness.  In some cases children have moved away from the valley and perhaps don’t call or visit as much as one would hope.  Sometimes the home has not been maintained as well as in the past and shows signs of disrepair.  In other cases mobility issues have created challenges that have been met in unusual ways, including sleeping in the living room in front of the TV, or not leaving the home for extended periods of time because of lack of transport or fear of falling.

I bring up this subject because according to the 2010 U.S. Census for Jackson County there were 13,400 households made up of a woman living alone, representing 16.1 percent of all county households.  In addition, the number of females 65 years and older living alone totaled 7,039 (8.5 percent of all county households).  The rate of females 65 years and older is almost two and half times higher than males over 65 living alone.  (Note:  these figures do not include those living in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc.).  As baby boomers reach age 65 (10,000 per day nationwide and continuing at that rate for another 18 years) these numbers locally will only increase.

Age-Friendly Innovators is planning to create a fund to help those we encounter in our assessment process who have limited fixed income but need some minor modifications such as CO detectors, grab bars or carpet tape to secure throw rugs.  We are calling this “Grandma’s Porch.”  We are also collaborating with Rogue Valley Habitat for Humanity to help make larger home repairs or modifications to improve accessibility.

As a community we need to be more aware of these thousands of older adults living alone among us.  Sometimes they live right across the street but are never seen.  Can we do better in reaching out to those that are alone or may need help with transportation, small repairs, a little yard work or other chores?  Isn’t this what “livable communities” as all about?

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