Aiding the elderly
NORWALK — ElderHouse was the opposite of what Jean Gonzales had expected.
Two years ago, with the help of a social worker, her daughter decided an adult day center would be a good idea because Gonzales was left at home alone for much of the day.
At first, Gonzales had envisioned a doctor’s office, but when she arrived, she was surprised to see a series of tables lined with different board games, coloring books and reading materials. She found her way into a quiet room and started coloring with a group of other seniors. To this day, she still calls those elders her closest friends.
“I don’t know why there’s not more people here. I don’t understand that,” the 71-year-old said. “If my social worker told me about this, then why aren’t more social workers doing the same thing?”
ElderHouse is an all-day adult day care center that offers a long list of medical, social and therapeutic services to seniors in the Norwalk area. The nonprofit’s programs are offered on a sliding scale if seniors qualify. Executive staff said seniors are turned away only if they need a more advanced level of care.
“We work on the overall person, because when someone’s home alone and isolated, they have no stimulation,” said Sally Harding, a geriatric social worker at ElderHouse. “Studies show when you’re watching television that’s not an interactive game show, your brain waves are almost flatlined, so we work on physical activity, mental stimulation, socialization, nutrition and nursing and their overall general well-being.”
Other services include showers, hair styling, exercise classes, social activities, games, medication administration, daily meals and dietary monitoring. The program is set up to give caregivers peace of mind and the time for self-care, staff said. The facility has social workers, drivers and a nurse on site and offers caregiver support courses.
Adult day care centers are designed to create a safe, stimulating environment where seniors can remain as independent as possible for as long as possible, Executive Director Denise Cesareo said.
Ninety percent of seniors say they would prefer to age in place and independently, according to AARP. Geriatrics experts say aging in place can slow the advancement of memory loss and other age-related illnesses and can promote physical, social and mental well-being.
“I think any of us would choose to go to our own bed at night rather than going into institutional care,” Cesareo said. “If you can delay that and you can keep someone living in their own home, quality of life, it’s so much better.”
Some studies suggest life expectancies decrease after admittance to a nursing home, with death most likely to occur within the first year of entry.
Cesareo joined ElderHouse 26 years ago by happenstance, after a colleague told her about the program. Once she understood ElderHouse’s mission, she quickly supported it.
“At that time, people were being institutionalized prematurely,” she said. “I knew there had to be a better way to care for older adults.”
Most clients use ElderHouse’s services three days per week and the daily rate is $92 per day. The organization is open six days per week and offers services on a sliding scale. If a client attended everyday, ElderHouse would cost about $2,400 per month.
Adult day centers are the cheapest form of elder care and cost on average, $1,500 per month, according to Genworth Financial.
Home health aides and assisted living facilities cost about $4,000 per month, and nursing homes, the most expensive form of care, cost between $7,000 to $8,000 a month, according to Genworth.
“We open our doors to all seniors regardless of their ability to pay, which means one of my roles is to raise money,” Cesareo said.
She and other staff said people are unaware of the different options for elder care and they are constantly trying to advertise and spread the word about ElderHouse.
ElderHouse relies on donations and philanthropic organizations to help with funding. Cesareo said if members of the community would recommend seniors who are isolated and alone, it would help the company. Businesses who employ adults who work but also act as caregivers, should recommend those persons too, she said.
ElderHouse serves about 125 families per year and staff typically help adults who are struggling to take care of their children and their parents.
Cesareo said about 25 percent of the time, she meets elderly men who are committed to taking care of their elderly wives, even though both are aging side by side.
In the U.S., about 10,000 baby boomers will turn 65 each day until 2030, according to the Pew Research Center. One in every five U.S. residents will be retirement age by then and older people will outnumber children for the first time in American history, according to the Census Bureau. Connecticut has one of the largest 50 and older populations in the country, according to AARP.
But despite those figures, Gonzales said, people don’t care about senior issues that affect people like her. Staff at ElderHouse said people don’t think about elder issues until there’s a personal need for those services and staff are worried Connecticut is unprepared for this seismic shift.
The need for informal caregivers will increase drastically in the next 10 years, as will the demand for health care services, according to the Connecticut State Unit on Aging.
Municipalities nationwide are reshaping policies and implementing age-friendly sidewalks, parks and transportation services. Jurisdictions are creating strategic action plans and studying elder needs to create communities where seniors can age comfortably, according to AARP.
“This is not going away anytime soon,” Cesareo said. “It really is going to be quite life-altering for many people.”
Donna Madalon, a registered nurse of 40 years at ElderHouse, said people who aren’t medically involved are often unaware of the many medical issues associated with aging. As people age, their hearing, cognitive and verbal skills tend to decline, and elders may not be able to articulate symptoms when they’re ill.
Madalon said if people become more educated about elderly related health issues, seniors could age better.
Staff at ElderHouse said only in America are the elderly not a main priority.
These are the people who built American schools, bridges and roads, Cesareo said. They’ve fought our wars and worked hard and tirelessly in factories, she added.
Staff at ElderHouse said if the country doesn’t prepare, it will lose that legacy.