According to a recent AARP survey, more than 95 percent of New Hampshire seniors want to remain in their own homes as they age - but that’s not always practical or affordable.
To address these concerns, two non-profits in the state are developing a novel approach to home-based eldercare that’s becoming popular around the country.
On a recent spring day, a group of seniors meet for lunch in New London. They’re a hardy group. They live in their own homes and insist they have no interest in moving to a retirement facility. But they do admit to needing help from time to time with meals, rides and chores.
My name is Nancy Brenner. I live in Newbury. I’m 73 years old. I was in need of assistance because my husband fell and then he fell again and fractured his hip and ended up in extended care. I was just beside myself.
Brenner and the other diners belong to a non-profit resource and referral service for seniors that costs around 400 dollars a year. The fee remains the same no matter how much a senior uses it. The idea is that if enough members join, those who hardly ever need services sustain those who do. Brenner recalls when she reached out to a coordinator at the non-profit:
He assisted me in getting an eldercare attorney, drove me to appointments, and also sent some reputable contractors to the house because I needed work done there.
Brenner and other members also get discounts from businesses that have been screened. But most of the assistance comes from volunteers over 60. And this is typical, according to New Hampshire’s AARP director Kelly Clark.
What we’re seeing is that individuals in that 60 to 79 age bracket represent a tremendous resource in terms of expertise and volunteer capacity.
She says the number of state residents between the ages of 60 and 79 will swell from 252 thousand today to 419 thousand in 2020. And that’s the segment, she says, that can help those over 80 remain in their homes – rather than move to nursing facilities or assisted living centers.
If we take a look at the numbers of individuals that are eventually going to hit that 80-plus bracket, there’s not an obvious sustainable solution. And so, community supports that allow people to stay in their homes are absolutely critical, such as the volunteer network.
Volunteer Barbara Gurnsey walks in the screen door and attaches a leash to the Airedale terrier. The dog belongs to 88 year-old Carlton Bradford who lives alone on a rambling dirt road in New London. Gurnsey, who it turns out, is also a neighbor, started taking Sky for walks after Bradford came home from surgery.
I was putting wood in the stove and letting my dog out and fell and ended up in the hospital and realized when I got home that I really needed some help. David then took me to doctor’s office and made sure I had food in the house.
Bradford is referring to David Royle who coordinates volunteers at the non-profit, aptly named At Home.
CB: Barbara was not a close friend that I could call on and say Barbara, please come and help me. She came as a volunteer for At Home.
SR-K: What feels different about paying a membership fee and then calling on a volunteer versus calling a neighbor who’s not part of this organization?
CB: The difference is the feeling of independence. You’ve paid for it. That’s different than calling and say, Fred, would you come over tomorrow and take me to the doctor. What if Fred has 88 other things to do and he’d probably say yes, I’ll be glad to, and not begrudge it, but maybe think, do I really have to.
And this gets to the heart of the dilemma for many elders living on their own who don’t want to bother anybody.
Sean Lyon is a nurse practitioner and chairs the At Home board of directors:
They end up being a shut-in. They don’t have access to the food they need. They may fall. Those hindrances lead to variety of problems when they have to move all of a sudden because of a medical illness or an injury.
Lyon says the At Home membership doesn’t replace medical care, and it’s not likely to reverse the fact that about 40 percent of those over 65 today will need a nursing home at some point in time. But, he says, the social contact with trained volunteers may decrease hospital stays or re-admissions, and it may help ease the transition to institutional care, if and when the time comes.
Folks are unable to easily make a decision regarding moving out of their home. That is not something that happens with great grace usually. And what this does with living at home is it helps to start a conversation about how they can be where they are and to do so in a safe and less costly way.
The At Home organization is launching with 20 members serving six surrounding towns. In the next three years, it plans to expand to 90 members. It’s one of nearly 100 similar groups in 38 states that belong to a national organization called the Village-to-Village Network. A second New Hampshire member of the network resides in the Monadnock area. and a third one in Nashua expects to open later this year.