Too often, seniors' lives are filled with limitations. In addition to physical barriers, they sometimes have little or no say about where and how they age. They may suffer from helplessness and boredom -- a result of being isolated from the community at large.
A group of local, state and national experts on aging began exploring new approaches to senior care this week during the Rural Forum on Healthy Aging, hosted by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Assoc--iation in Steamboat Springs.
In the face of a growing senior population, the VNA is working to establish a model of care that integrates seniors into the community socially while offering them more choices and opportunity for mental growth.
The VNA is preparing the first step in the ambitious effort as it nears its funding goal for purchasing The Haven Assisted Living Center in Hayden.
In the spring, the agency plans to begin building a community room at The Haven. The room would be used for education, entertainment and programs for seniors and other residents. The VNA envisions The Haven property as a "campus," possibly including senior housing, hospice and disability areas, a multigenerational wellness and fitness center and transit and visitor centers serving the valley.
Discussions are "very preliminary" and part of the VNA's efforts to establish a big picture before starting on the community room, VNA spokeswoman Suzi Mariano said.
Although plans for the Hav--en are promising, the VNA is embarking into largely unmarked territory -- "aging well" models are rare in rural areas, which face geographic, financial and other barriers.
Friday's forum was an opportunity for creative minds in the aging field to weigh in on those issues.
"We offer our region and territory as your canvas," VNA executive director Sue Birch told participants Friday.
Ideas abounded Friday as about 14 representatives of health organizations, companies and university programs brainstormed goals and initiatives that will improve seniors' living environments and quality of life.
Participants pointed to en----gaging seniors with learning and personal growth opportunities and helping seniors feel wanted and useful through volunteering.
Experts also discussed how technology -- such as Telehealth, which allows health professionals to remotely monitor seniors' medical issues -- can help preserve seniors' independence and ability to remain at home.
Participants said the VNA needs to develop a business plan, work to integrate aging issues with community planning processes and engage community leaders and residents so they take ownership in projects.
Representatives also encouraged the VNA to seek corporate support and stressed developing a model that can be sustained into the future.
Jennie Chin Hansen, of the American Association of Retired Persons, was among participants excited about the VNA's work toward "rural renewal" and changing the approach to aging and senior care.
"This could potentially be an innovative and ongoing experiment for bettering care that will become a model for other areas in the country," she said.
The Orton Family Found----ation, the Healthcare Foun--dation for the Yampa Valley and the Anschutz Family Foundation sponsored the Rural Forum on Healthy Aging, in addition to the VNA.
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