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A network of helping hands

Times Staff Writer

The “aging in place” movement is fueled by changes throughout society. Services linked to retirement communities -- official or otherwise -- are not the only options for older Americans who want to remain in their homes.

Networks of services: Across the nation, business people are forming networks, called Aging in Place Councils, in various cities to link seniors to services.

The networks are often diverse, consisting of local government officials, home healthcare agencies, estate planners and reverse mortgage specialists, elder law experts, transportation agencies and fix-it people. Each chapter in the National Aging in Place Council agrees to abide by a code of ethics to protect seniors from unscrupulous business practices.

“Most people find they have to piece together all the services they need,” says Peter Bell, of the National Aging in Place Council. “Our concept is to bring together all these pieces to work collectively.”

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Businesses’ role: Individual businesses are increasingly tailoring their services to an aging population.

The National Assn. of Home Builders, for example, has begun to offer a training program for contractors who wish to specialize in helping seniors remodel their homes for easier access. The program, formed in cooperation with AARP, allows builders to become certified Aging-in-Place Specialists. Home remodeling for the elderly is one of the industry’s fastest-growing segments, says Elinor Ginzler of AARP.

The modifications can cost a few hundred dollars (for handrails or improved lighting) or thousands of dollars (for such full-scale renovations as installation of an elevator, entryway ramp or lowered counters and cabinets).

“Home modification can mean the difference between staying in your home and not,” Ginzler says. “It’s about the house and how it is helping you or hurting you.”

Technology: Home monitoring systems can alert caregivers living elsewhere of their loved one’s activities, and automatic timers can remind people when and how to take their medications. Medical devices can monitor glucose or blood pressure and send the information to doctors.

And robots and smart appliances can make housework easier.

Existing agencies: Even traditional services such as adult day-care centers are undergoing a shift away from the image of meaningless busy time for older people, says Lydia Missaelides, executive director of the California Assn. for Adult Day Services.

Services in many centers are individualized to promote independence and self-care.

“Each person in adult day care has an assessment, and activities and services are individualized,” she says. “They may work on an arts and crafts project. But an occupational therapist has designed that activity to help them with fine motor skills or mental stimulation.”

Governments: Local municipalities are getting in on the act, says Laura Trejo, general manager for the Los Angeles Department of Aging. The city points seniors to transportation, meal and home chore help; adult day care; and other supportive services. The department also has reached out to the city’s 80 neighborhood councils urging city leaders to assess the needs of various senior populations.

“The good news is people have more options,” Trejo says.


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