Aging Well: Baby steps toward housing solutions

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Seminar

The Over the Hill Gang hosts a social seminar, "Future Housing and Living Choices for Seniors in the Yampa Valley." from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Steamboat Grand Hotel Slopeside Owners Club in Gondola Square (through the wooden arches and to the right). Representatives from the VNA's Aging Well program will discuss future housing possibilities and issues.

Free parking is available in the parking garage at the corner of Mount Werner Circle and Ski Time Square Drive. All are welcome. For more information, call Frank at 870-8793.

The Over the Hill Gang is a recreation and social club for individuals 50 and older in the Yampa Valley. For more information, visit www.ssoverthehill...>

On any given day, members of the Over the Hill Gang are living very much in the present.

Whether hiking, biking, skiing or picnicking, members of the 50-plus club stay true to their goal of living well and having fun at the same time.

They have taken charge of their health, but they also are taking charge of their future, embarking on a collaborative process that, ideally, will allow them to continue to be independent and active in the Yampa Valley as they age.

"I like it here, so the logical question is, 'How do I stay?'" explained Joe Caddell, one of more than 400 members in the club.

Caddell is helping organize a social seminar this week to energize community conversations focused on future housing options for older adults. The discussion will feature a presentation from Sue Birch, chief executive officer of the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

In its fourth year, the VNA's Aging Well program aims to improve the health of older adults in the Yampa Valley through new or improved facilities, programs and services.

Birch and other VNA representatives will explain their perspective on tackling one of the most challenging aspects of their Aging Well vision: having a complete continuum of housing and service options to accommodate older adults in various stages of the aging process and from a variety of socio-economic and health backgrounds.

"Housing is a big social determinant of health, and we have to be more creative in how we define and support the health of our entire aging community through their living situations," Birch said.

Filling the continuum

Unlike some rural areas, Northwest Colorado has a variety of living options for older adults including senior apartments, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. New programs, such as adult day services, offered by the Aging Well program, also are helping older adults remain in their homes or with family caregivers longer.

What's missing for Caddell and other active older adults, are options between the traditional homes where they live now and where they may be in later stages of life.

"The question is, 'What's in that gray transition period?'" he said.

Ideally, that transition period would include flexible housing alternatives that accommodate and encourage active, independent lifestyles but include safe and convenient access to supportive services.

This likely will be a creative combination of newer trends in adult retirement communities.

"We like livable community models that accommodate older adults experiencing a variety of needs and adhere to healthy land use planning concepts," Birch said.

Studies have shown that older adults do not want to lose a sense of community in their transition to different housing. Developers have responded with scaled-down and more diverse alternatives to sprawling retirement villages.

Some models have a campus-like setting, where residents live in small houses or duplexes. These small communities may include health, personal care and transportation services as well as wellness facilities and programs.

Additional features, such as parks, open space, playgrounds, a child care center, cafe and activity centers, also appeal to the larger community, creating a lively and engaging intergenerational neighborhood setting for older adults.

One version of this, the continuing care retirement community, offers several levels of care - independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing - in one location, providing a more comfortable and assured long-term living solution.

These communities typically involve a long-term contract, upfront payment or fee (part of which may be refunded to a person's estate when they die) and/or monthly fees to guarantee ongoing services. Potential residents usually have to be in good health to move in.

Another trend in older adult communities is co-housing, little developments where residents live in private quarters but gather for communal meals, chores and activities. The communities' layout and design reflect traditional neighborhoods and encourage a close-knit community with prominent front doors, porches and walkways as well as communal gardens and open space.

The co-housing concept, originally developed for young families, can be particularly appealing to individuals or couples interested in pooling resources or being part of a family-like community of older adults.

Community collaboration

Although the VNA has no immediate plans to build older adult housing, the agency is exploring options that are realistic for our communities and support Aging Well goals: to create safe living environments and provide wellness programs and services that encourage civic engagement, healthy living and independence.

The Over the Hill Gang's "call to action" is very encouraging because of the need for community collaboration in tackling a complex issue, Birch said.

"It's going to take a strong public private partnership," she said. "We don't have the volume of seniors in any one socio-economic status to support one distinct and separate solution. We have to look across all socio-economic groups and a broad age spectrum."

Creating housing that is affordable and attractive to a wide range of older adults is just one component of process. There also needs to be variety of support services available to help individuals live independently.

Creating viable transportation and finding full-time workers to assist caregivers in their homes are just a few problems made even more difficult in our remote and rural region of the state.

"It's not just about affordable housing," Birch said. "It's about affordable living and affordable health services, as well."

That's why, as more and more baby boomers confront aging issues and hopes for their futures, it's important to begin the conversations now.

"This is just the beginning - baby steps," Caddell said.

This article includes information from "Housing and Retirement Living: Redefining the Continuum," by Sandra Timmermann, Journal of Financial Service Professionals, December 2005.

- Tamera Manzanares writes for the Aging Well program and can be reached at tmanzanares@nwcovna.org or 871-7606. Aging Well, a division of Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, is a community-based program of healthy aging for adults 50 and older. For more information or to view past articles, log onto www.agingwelltoday.com.

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