Helping Baltimoreans to 'age in place'

Jo Fisher

July 19, 1991|By Jo Fisher

MOST PEOPLE are aware that the number of older people i the United States is growing. But few -- other than the elderly themselves and perhaps their children -- think much about how older people are housed.

Children of older people often think it best if Mom or Dad (and most often it is just Mom) move from their homes into something more manageable, with fewer stairs, in safer neighborhoods, or where services such as meal preparation are available.

The American Association of Retired People (AARP) tells us, however, that according to recent studies, Mom and Dad want to remain in their homes and never move. Social workers call this "aging in place."

Last summer, the South East Senior Housing Initiative studied the housing needs and preferences of older residents of Southeast Baltimore. Most of them said they wanted to remain in their own homes. In addition, they expressed the need for assistance in maintaining their homes and a desire for more nearby housing options should they choose to move. They, too, want to age in place.

pTC Most seniors in Southeast Baltimore live in two- or three-story row houses, many with the kitchen in the basement and the only bathroom on the second floor. Why would they want to remain in homes which are so uncompromising to the physical limitations that often accompany aging?

Older people play important roles in their families, community groups and churches. Southeast seniors describe their neighborhoods as clean and quiet. Often their neighbors are people they have known all their lives. They are near top-notch medical institutions. So even it they choose to leave their homes, they do not want to leave the community. However, as the AARP study indicated, few have planned for their changing housing needs.

The South East Senior Housing Initiative, a coalition of community-based organizations, is committed to developing additional housing options for the older residents of the area and to helping them plan for their future. Older residents play a critical role in their community and in the city of Baltimore. There are over 13,000 people 65 and older living in Southeast Baltimore. People 65 and over head 28 percent of the households in the area and live in 42 percent of owner-occupied homes.

Adapting one's home to meet the physical needs of the older resident is one option often overlooked by older residents as well as their families. Adapting one's home not only meets the needs of the resident, but it also meets the needs of the community and city by keeping the fabric of the community intact and keeping homes in the hands of homeowners.

Our group is collaborating with a private developer to retrofit a row house in Canton which will showcase many of the devices and adaptations that can enhance independence. When the house is completed sometime late this summer, it will display a first-floor bathroom with a special bathtub and shower, a chair lift and a kitchen with laundry.

We are also developing a list of funding sources to which a senior might turn when making these modifications and a list of contractors, large and small, willing to work on small home-modification projects. Older residents of Southeast Baltimore will be trained to counsel other seniors in exploring housing options.

Recognizing that adapting one's home is often only a partial solution for older residents who wish to age in place, the South East Senior Housing Initiative is also working to expand supportive services such as the home maintenance program offered by Banner Neighborhoods and chore services such as those offered by SET for Success. The South East initiative also encourages the development of a full range of senior housing options including congregate housing and new apartments.

We were part of the team that successfully represented Baltimore in the recent All America Cities competition sponsored by the National Civic League in San Antonio. Baltimore city is fortunate to have an array of community groups that share a rich history of successful problem-solving. South East members, through continued collaboration, can expand housing options for older residents. When people can age in place, their communities become more vital and stable for everyone.

Jo Fisher is the project coordinator of the South East Senior Housing Initiative.

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