"Come for a day and stay for a lifetime…"(R)

Is ‘aging in place’ better for seniors than retirement communities?

by Carla Griffin on November 23, 2011

AP Photo/Rich Schultz

Retirement communities may have their perks, but Beryl O’Connor says it would be tough to match the birthday surprise she got in her own backyard when she turned 80 this year.

She was tending her garden when two little girls from next door — “my buddies,” she calls them — brought her a strawberry shortcake. It underscored why she wants to stay put in the housethat she and her husband, who died 18 years ago, purchased in the late 1970s.

“I couldn’t just be around old people — that’s not my lifestyle,” she said. “I’d go out of my mind.”

Physically spry and socially active, O’Connor in many respects is the embodiment of “aging in place,” growing old in one’s own longtime homeand remaining engaged in the community rather than moving to a retirement facility.

According to surveys, aging in place is the overwhelming preference of Americans over 50. But doing it successfully requires both good fortune and support services — things that O’Connor’s pleasant hometown of Verona has become increasingly capable of providing.

About 10 miles northwest of Newark, Verona has roughly 13,300 residents nestled into less than 3 square miles. There’s a transportation network that takes older people on shopping trips and to medical appointments, and the town is benefiting from a $100,000 federal grant to put in place an aging-in-place program called Verona LIVE.

Beryl O’Connor plays cards with her friends including June Szabo, left, in her home in Verona, N.J. (AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

Administrated by United Jewish Communities of MetroWest New Jersey, the program strives to educate older people about available services to help them address problems and stay active in the community. Its partners include the health and police departments, the rescue squad, the public and public schools, and religious groups.

Among the support services are a homemaintenance program with free safety checks and minor homerepairs, access to a social worker and job counselor, a walking club and other social activities. In one program, a group of middle-school girls provided one-on-one computer training to about 20 older adults.

Social worker Connie Pifher, Verona’s health coordinator, said a crucial part of the overall initiative is educating older people to plan ahead realistically and constantly reassess their prospects for successfully aging in place.

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