Prepare to Meet Challenges Presented by Aging Residents
The world's population is aging at a rapid pace. The U.S. Census Bureau states that, in the next 10 years, people over 65 will outnumber children under 5 for the first time.
People are living longer, and they're living on their own. At least two million low-income seniors currently live in independent, federally subsidized rental properties across the country, according to the Institute for the Future of Aging (IFAS), the policy research arm of the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA).
The average age of the residents at these properties is getting older, as existing residents age in place, while new residents are moving in at advanced ages, according to IFAS Policy Research Associate Alisha Sanders. “That is due, in part, to the seniors’ desire to stay in their own homes and communities. But the difference for low-income seniors is that they really don't have many other options,” she says. “The other challenge is that these residents are lower income, and we know through our research that low-income seniors have a higher propensity for health complications and disabilities compared to the general population, which makes it even more challenging for the housing providers.”
Raise Awareness of Community Resources
Research by the IFAS has found that family support is critical to helping senior residents age in place. “The majority of long-term care for seniors is provided through informal caregivers, who are generally the family members,” Sanders says. In its studies of housing properties’ support strategies for low-income seniors, the IFAS found that the involvement of a family member was key to helping the residents remain in their units as their needs increased.
IFAS’ focus groups with family caregivers revealed that, even though many are employed and have their own families to care for, they are providing an extensive level of support through regular visits (several times per week or even daily) to prepare meals, handle household chores, pick up and monitor medications, handle financial obligations, manage and take their family member to medical appointments, shop for or take their family member shopping, and provide companionship.
The focus group discussions also revealed that the majority of family caregivers rarely or never take advantage of community services and resources to help meet their family member's needs. “The family caregivers lacked an awareness of the different types of resources that are available in the community,” Sanders says. “So they tend to do a lot of things themselves when there might be a program that could share some of the load with them.”
Based on its research, the IFAS has developed a training program designed to support older residents of subsidized housing by supporting the family members who care for them on a daily basis. The IFAS training program consists of two components. The first part helps to educate family caregivers on the aging process, changes that their family members are going through, and how their behaviors and needs are going to change. The second part of the program focuses on helping family caregivers understand the different types of programs and resources available to them within the housing site, as well as the community, says Sanders.
Tap Site Resources to Support Senior Residents
Site staff can play an important role in helping senior residents to age in place, says Sanders. Managers should share with their staff the site's philosophy for supporting residents—how to help them, and what they can and cannot do—and develop a process for communicating with each other about their senior residents’ needs. For instance, she points out that “some of the more insightful resources are the maintenance staff. They're friendly with the residents, and they're in the residents’ units, so they can notice changes and potential problems.”
Site managers can take a proactive approach to learn about their elderly residents’ needs through resident surveys. The IFAS is currently developing a community assessment tool to help sites create an overall picture of the health, functional status, social well-being, and mental health of their residents. Site managers can use this information to plan service programs and partnerships with community groups that will make the biggest impact for their senior population.
Finally, Sanders recommends that site managers and staff reach out to their community providers to learn about available resources in their area. “If they know what resources are out there, they can begin building partnerships and making connections between their housing site and the home- and community-based services programs that are being developed and provided in their local community or in their state,” she says.
Alisha Sanders, MPAff: Policy Research Associate, Institute for the Future of Aging Services (IFAS), American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging (AAHSA); (202) 783-2242; email@example.com; www.aahsa.org.