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Lincoln Park residents Wally Shah, 79, and Liz Ware, 76, said they have remained in their own home through the help of the Lincoln Park Village, an organization that helps seniors remain active community members.

Boom in senior population drives need for more aging-in-place options

by Jayna Omaye
May 22, 2013


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Data: Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning

By 2040, the number of residents in the Chicago metropolitan area ages 65 to 84 is projected to double, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning found. CLICK on graph to see full-size image.


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Joyce Gallagher (in red with microphone), executive director of the City of Chicago’s Department of Family and Support Services Senior Services Area Agency on Aging, presented the city’s plan on aging and asked seniors for feedback at various public hearings.


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Dorothy Schmidt, 92 of Edgewater, said she plays her organ every day to help with her arthritis. At least once a week, Schmidt said she also visits the Edgewater Satellite Senior Center for meal services. 

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Lincoln Park resident Liz Ware, 76, talks about the importance of aging in place and services that help her remain in her own home.

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Dorothy Schmidt, 92 of Edgewater, talks about the benefits of remaining in her own home and the ways she keeps busy.

Related Links

City of Chicago: Department of Family and Support Services Senior Services Are Agency on AgingIllinois Department on AgingChicago Metropolitan Agency for PlanningCenter on Aging, University of ChicagoElder Care HelperLincoln Park VillageNorth Shore VillageVillage to Village NetworkRelated story: Home-improvement services helps seniors age in and with communities

It takes a village to care for seniors

In 2002, a group of Boston seniors formed the first village, a nonprofit that provides volunteer-based services that help older adults age in place.

Since then, the number of villages has totaled more than 85 nationwide with at least 120 more in development, according to a study prepared by the State University of New Jersey’s School of Social Work.

In Illinois, there are five villages, two of which are in development, according to the Village to Village Network, a national network that helps establish and manage villages.

“It’s like we’re taking control again,” said Jane Curry, who previously served as a founding board member of the Lincoln Park Village, which has garnered nearly 365 members. “We’re going to change our communities in ways that make us feel more involved in our community, but provide services for us to stay.”

Some villages offer its members a variety of social events such as workshops, tour groups and concerts, as well as recommends service providers for members’ specific needs, such as home maintenance and construction.

“They want to have control over how they age,” said Tommi Ferguson, member engagement manager at the North Shore Village, which serves nearly 300 Evanston, Skokie and Wilmette residents. “This is how they’re voicing their preferences to stay where they want for as long as they want.”

An important part of the village concept is the volunteer aspect, said Dianne Campbell, founding executive director of the Lincoln Park Village, which serves Lincoln Park, Lake View and Near North residents 50 and older.

“It starts by providing a give-help, get-help network,” Campbell said. “Part of aging well is opportunities to contribute and give back. We can do that as being part of a larger community.”

Village member Wally Shah, 79, a mechanical engineer before he retired, said he volunteers to help members with small repairs. Similarly, Liz Ware, 76, another village member, said she drives people to appointments and events and helps them with gardening.

Although village members pay an annual membership, Campbell and Ferguson said reduced-rate options are available.

Annual membership rates for the Lincoln Park Village range from $540 for singles to $780 for households. For members with limited fixed incomes, a reduced-rate option is available for $100 annually for singles.

At the North Shore Village, annual full membership range from $540 for individuals to $680 for households. Full members receive priority access to the village’s services. Affiliate members, who can be of any age, pay less annually but engage with programs on a space-available basis. These annual rates range from $150 for individuals to $175 for households. Reduced rates are also available on a case-by-case basis, Ferguson said.

The North Shore Village, Ferguson said, retains nearly 85 percent of its members.

Similarly, Campbell said that although the membership fee is sometimes a deterrent from joining, the renewal rate remains high at about 88 percent.

“What we give is very, very special and we want to make sure we’re here tomorrow,” Campbell said. “We have programs that bring people together to do things that they like to do. We know learning new things and being socially engaged is positive for aging well.”
Liz Ware, 76, and Wally Shah, 79, have lived together in Lincoln Park for nearly 24 years. Although Ware said she has thought about moving to a retirement community, she has continued to live in her own home with the help of friends and connections she has developed in the neighborhood.

“In your own house, you can do whatever you want,” Ware said. One of the downsides to moving to a retirement community, she said, is that “there’s all types of groups of people. It’s a different environment … age is a different story. If you go, you are associated with older people.”

Nearly 90 percent of seniors ages 65 and older want to live in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, according to AARP.

“They usually have a social structure that they become to depend on and rely on,” said Thomas Prohaska, dean of George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services, and a former professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago specializing in the psychology of aging. “Moving to a new place, that is a pretty big loss for assistance and emotional support.”

The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning found that the metropolitan region’s older population continues to grow.

“If communities look at their census, what’s happening between 2000 and 2010, and if they see a growing senior population, that’s a good indication that they should start looking for plans to help seniors now,” said Trevor Dick, senior planner at the agency who helped with a local project that accommodated aging in place options. “It’s an important issue. It’s an issue that’s been happening for a long time.”

In 2056, for the first time nationwide, those ages 65 and older will outnumber those 18 years and younger, the U.S. Census projects.

In Illinois, the number of residents 65 and older increased from 1.5 million in 2000 to 1.6 million in 2010. In 2025, this group is projected to reach nearly 2.2 million, which would represent 16.6 percent of the statewide population, according to U.S. census data.

In the seven-county region, residents ages 65 and older represented 10.7 percent of the population in 2000, but increased to 11.3 percent in 2010, according to the agency.

By 2040, the number of residents in the Chicago metropolitan area ages 65 to 84 is projected to double, according to the agency.

“This is a trend for the world as a whole,” said Linda Waite, director of the University of Chicago’s Center on Aging. “What happens is as the world changes, the rate at which people die tends to fall as countries industrialize, as health care gets better. … We’ll need to devote more resources in society for caring for the very old.”

Chicago continues to plan for aging in place options, said Joyce Gallagher, the city’s Department of Family and Support Services Senior Services Area Agency on Aging executive director.

“There is a huge value to helping seniors age in place and it is our philosophy and policy,” Gallagher said. “It is best for the seniors since it allows them the connections they have established for themselves to continue and fosters their independence.”

Programs such as the Well Being Task Force, established in 2003, advocate for seniors living alone. The task force identifies and links isolated seniors to partnering agencies and community organizations.

Gallagher said the city also provides health workshop sessions, social activities and exercise classes through the city’s senior centers. Chicago residents, ages 60 and older, can enter the centers at no cost and access many services for nominal fees.

“Isolation in a large city is one of the greatest risks to an aging senior and the opportunity to connect with peers and connect to city services is the greatest insurance against this risk,” Gallagher said. “Many outings and events are planned to suit each senior’s interests.”

Dorothy Schmidt, 92, visits the Edgewater Satellite Senior Center at least once a week mainly for the meal services, she said.

“I look for meals that doesn’t cost me a lot,” said Schmidt, who has lived in Edgewater for about 27 years. Schmidt said she doesn’t receive city services because she doesn’t need them.

However, she said she is also unsure of what the city provides for seniors, so she attended a public hearing at the Edgewater Satellite Senior Center where Gallagher reviewed the city’s plan on aging and asked seniors for feedback.

“The city shouldn’t have to help anybody,” Schmidt said. “This is a great thing they’re doing for seniors. … If I need help, then I would call the Department on Aging to see what’s available.”

The city has also applied through the World Health Organization, which helps shape public health policy through research and other initiatives, to become an age-friendly city, Gallagher said.

The organization’s age-friendly cities network connects communities to a range of information, services and training that help neighborhoods accommodate older adults’ needs while being sustainable and cost-effective.

Over the next 18 months, the city will assess the needs of the older population to help seniors successfully age in place, Gallagher said. The assessment will be used as a planning tool for all agencies and departments, she said.

Statewide programs provided by the Illinois Department on Aging also help seniors age in place, said Betsy Creamer, supervisor of the department’s Office of Older American Services.

“The goal of seniors, of course, is to remain within the community and not in long-term facilities,” Creamer said. “Our services help delay the need for nursing home placement.”

There are two main statewide programs that help older adults to age in place, Creamer said: the Community Care program, which targets frailer seniors, and senior centers, which serve more mobile older adults.

“All these services are very comprehensive and are designed to meet people’s needs in spectrum,” Creamer said.

Programs such as transportation and meal services offered at senior centers serve the younger, more mobile elderly, she said.

“However, as they get older and get more frail, there are other types of services that still help them remain at home,” she said.

The Community Care program, which mainly targets seniors with limited budgets, provides Illinois residents 60 years and older with services such as meal preparation, housekeeping and transportation, Creamer said.

For those who do not meet the program’s requirements, Creamer said the department also offers a case management system, which links older adults to private services.

The state’s multiple senior centers, Creamer said, also help the healthier, more mobile older adults by providing social interaction, meal service and transportation to and from the centers.

“You want people to have a good quality of life as long as possible, but also we have to think about costs down the road,” Creamer said. “The sicker we are or not as healthy as we are, we spend more money later. That’s true whether you’re young or old.”

To continue to fund these programs, Creamer said the Department on Aging requested a budget of $1.3 billion for 2014. That would be a 44 percent increase over the current year budget of $890 million.

“We are hoping that we do get the $1.3 billion, but we do not know yet whether that will increase,” Creamer said. “As the population ages and the most rapidly growing section of the aging population is 85 and plus, we’re getting more referrals for the community care program.”

Although Ware, a long-time Lincoln Park resident, said the city and state do offer senior programs, she receives most help from private organizations like the Lincoln Park Village, a volunteer-based nonprofit that helps older adults remain active community members.

“We always believe that a family is too small to take care of needs and that the government is too big,” said Dianne Campbell, founding executive director of the Lincoln Park Village. “At a time when government resources are so in demand … I think neighbor to neighbor is pretty attractive.”

Village volunteers help seniors with a multitude of personalized tasks, including teaching computer and technology skills and providing transportation to and from doctor’s appointments and events.

“I guess in a way, the village makes life more fun,” Ware said. “We’d be fine without, but it’s better with. It’s life enhancing.”

However, high costs to aging in place continue to plague the community, said Susan Cherco, the founder of a local organization that helps seniors and their families choose long-term care options.

Although Cherco, who has a master’s degree in gerontology, said most of her clients want to remain in their homes for as long as possible, some do not have the money or resources.

“It’s not that the government hasn’t done nothing, it’s just that those people who don’t meet those income requirements, there’s a gap,” Cherco said. “I think the realities are that budget restraints make things not possible.”

Similarly, Schmidt said moving to a retirement community would be expensive, so she said it’s more affordable to age in place, because she owns her Edgewater condominium.

Although there are many options for seniors to age in place, experts say there need to be more in the future.

“We live in a society that so much values independence that we can’t acknowledge that everybody at some point is dependent and needs assistance and needs community,” Cherco said.

Similarly, Ware said some older adults, like one of her friends diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, need more help.

“It’s not the physical; it’s the mental,” Ware said. “The aging population is booming. There’s more and more need for not just helping seniors with things they need help with, but creating a community.”