Senior center does more than serve meals

While it is true that many seniors today are more affluent and lead more active lives than those in generations past, it is critical for residents to understand that still many seniors are poor, frail and have limited access to needed services.

Moreover, there are inadequate dollars available to provide the services needed by all seniors.

While there are a good number of nursing homes in our county; if people have a choice, they would rather remain at home. However, to remain safely at home, many individuals need basic assistance — home-delivered meals, transportation for medical appointments, comprehensive medical management, socialization and more.

To illustrate why senior services are needed let me tell you about Suzanne.

Suzanne lost her husband, and best friend, Charlie, of 53 years of marriage. Suzanne had a strong family surrounding her in the months following Charlie’s death that kept her occupied; but as time wore on they began to tend to details of their lives. Suzanne was often home alone during the day.

Suzanne’s daughter encouraged her to visit the local senior center — if nothing else but to enjoy a cup of coffee. Suzanne decided it was worth a chance and called the local center for a ride. Once she was there she felt welcomed and comfortable. Suzanne enjoyed her cup of coffee and decided to stay for a hot lunch. She went back the next day. And the day after that. After a couple of months, she ended up volunteering by running bingo games. Her favorite part of attending the center was getting to go on field trips.

Suzanne’s grandkids came with her occasionally in the summer to play cards or help with a variety of small tasks.

Her daughter shared this, “When Mom decided to go to the center daily it gave us a peace of mind. I was happy that she wasn’t just sitting at home and that she was making new friends.”

For Suzanne’s family it was more than just the socialization that mattered. Her daughter continued, “The fact that transportation was included allowed me to focus on work without trying to balance her need for socialization or getting her to doctor appointments.”

Suzanne’s time at the senior center helped her make new friends, stay fit and kept her mind sharp.

“I wholeheartedly believe that the center keeps her alive and active; because of that she has been able to meet all of her great-grandchildren and make many more memories with our family while living in her own home,” her daughter said.

Several important facts regarding our aging population:

Of the total senior population in Jackson County, almost 40 percent had a total annual household income of $25,000 or less, making them eligible for some sort of financial assistance to receive services. Over the next year, Thrive Alliance (the former Area Agency on Aging) will increase public education so that potential clients know what services are available.

Many of these people live by themselves and often need to choose between buying food (if they can even easily access a store) or paying for medications.

The Thrive Alliance Senior Nutrition Program delivers hot lunches to isolated seniors; 60 percent of the hot meal recipients report that the delivery staff is only person the senior sees all day. Food insecurity is a major problem: 9.3 million Americans over the age of 60 face the threat of hunger … that’s one in six seniors.

Thrive Alliance, the local senior services agency, has a waiting list of 161 seniors, 27 of whom are Jackson County residents.

Indiana ranks close to the bottom of all states in percentage of dollars for the aged spent on home and community-based services. These are the services that keep people out of nursing homes, such as having a nurse or other medical professional provide services in the person’s home.

Thrive Alliance works with 50 licensed and certified home health companies, who provide a wide range of services that are developed in a case management care plan, specific to each client’s needs. Individual wellness and quality of life are priority issues.

Thrive Alliance recently received a grant from the Banfield Charitable Foundation to purchase pet food for clients receiving home-delivered meals. Companion animals are important to a person who lives alone, and if there is no means of purchasing pet food, the senior citizen will “share” the hot delivered lunch with pets. When that happens, neither the senior nor the pets receive adequate nutrition.

Home and community-based services are about one-fourth of the cost of supporting a person in a nursing home. And the quality of life is almost always better at home.

Perhaps you are like Suzanne, sitting home feeling alone and sad, or perhaps you aren’t but want the opportunity to socialize with others and share your passion and skills. The great thing is everyone is welcome at the local senior centers — especially others that want to share their passion and encourage others to find theirs. Consider sharing your time and passion with a group of local seniors — especially those that need a lifeline.

Tonja Couch is executive director of Jackson County United Way.