Plan on Aging receives new life
The High Country Area Plan On Aging has been updated, and it offers both challenges and opportunities, according to the area's director.
Area Agency on Aging director Anita Davie said the wide range of ages for senior citizens has created challenges in both the delivery of services and in the family's role in providing long-term care.
"One of the challenges that all our counties are facing is providing services and programs for a diverse population," Davie said. "The diversity we're trying to address is we have the older adults who are more traditional and have basic needs and have more of the disabilities. The 'younger old,' age 60, have a different experience and want different things.
"There's a lot of difference in 63 and 89. The 'younger old' are very different in terms of what they want when they come to a senior center. It's a challenge and opportunity for local governments."
Angie Boitnotte, director of Watauga County's Project on Aging, said it's difficult to offer programs for specific age ranges on limited funds. The Lois E. Harrill Senior Center typically offers a wide range of classes, activities and programs and lets each person decide the best fit.
"In the future, we'll wind up with a little more of that as more people turn 60," Boitnotte said. "Many times we just have to provide more activities. Ours range from yoga and tai chi to craft classes, or computer classes that might appeal to younger seniors."
Of Watauga County's estimated 45,300 people, nearly 7,000 are 60 and up. Of those, 2,300 are between the ages of 60 and 64 and 670 are aged 85 and up. The trend toward extended morality has also led to more attention to long-term care and a perception of a "second life" after retirement age. But that also creates a need for services for aging people who want to stay home rather than entering nursing homes or other assisted-living facilities.
"The support of family caregivers is extremely important because they provide more than 80 percent of long-term care for family members," Davie said.
Davie acknowledged that money for any type of public service was tight, but there were possibilities for partnerships that required some creativity but could prove beneficial.
Boitnotte acknowledged that many families do provide some care for aging family members, though there was a wide range of services and necessary training.
"It could be that families providing care make sure they have a meal, or get to the grocery store, all the way to (monitoring) feeding tubes," Boitnotte said. "They are still involved even when agencies are providing some help or in-home services."
Ashe County is trying a pilot program in which local churches are serving as a resource for in-home care, which could add up to the equivalent of many work-hours and value. If the program is successful, it could be used in the other seven counties, including Watauga, that make up the High Country Council of Governments area.
"It's one example of how you can develop resources without a lot of money," Davie said. "You don't always need a $3 million federal grant."
Another emerging trend among seniors is a desire to stay more active and take responsibility for improving their own health.
"One current topic is evidence-based health promotion," Davie said. "The idea there is that if people get involved in activities that are demonstrated to be effective, then those people will have more quality in their lives as well as cut down on medical expenses."
That also creates a resource tug between providing such activities for younger seniors and in-home services for those who have less mobility.
"The challenge of the age range is to have funds to enable people to stay in their own homes and yet we need money for activities like the evidence-based programs," Davie noted. "Sometimes we need a new way of thinking about what we are doing."
One way the Area Agency on Aging is advocating for seniors is raising awareness of their role in communities, as taxpayers, consumers and service users.
"We've worked with the Town of Boone to make senior-friendly trails and parks," Davie said.
"We ask what can towns, counties, local governments and private businesses do to become more senior-friendly."