CHAPEL HILL — The nation’s population is aging, and most seniors want to spend their golden years living as independently as possible.
A room full of seniors met last month at the UNC Wellness Center to discuss finding support in each other and “aging in place.”
The speaker series sponsored by the UNC Wellness Center and the Meadowmont Aging in Place Project meets every third Friday and is free and open to the public. Panelists from Carolina Villages, East Franklin Village, Falconridge, Kings Mill and Morgan Creek, Meadowmont and Southern Village recently discussed their efforts to help older residents in their communities.
Naturally occurring retirement community programs such as these help older adults support each other, connect with service providers and get assistance when they need it, with meals, transportation and general socializing.
According to the Pew Research Center, 10,000 Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) turn 65 every day and by 2030 nearly one in five Americans will be that age or older.
Retirement communities provide structure, support and services for residents, said Yvonne Mendenhall, co-founder of the Meadowmont Aging in Place Project. “If one chooses to age independently, they must create that structure, support and find services on their own,” she said.
Many groups cite Beacon Hill in Boston as a model community that offers discounted providers as well as ways to stay active and social. Like Beacon Hill, many aging in place programs are supported by fees and donations, but others have no dues. Some operate as self-governing nonprofits, and some have paid staff while others rely solely on volunteers.
Some of the topics discussed at last month’s meeting included reducing age restrictions in retirement communities and how to embrace younger people – who often can help with tasks such as spreading mulch or changing light bulbs – in more multi-generational communities.
Limitations of communities, such as being unable to provide medical care and when it may be time to consider moving into assisted living facilities, also were discussed.
Janice Wells has worked for N.C. State University’s social work department and said that, with adult children often busy, seniors can become isolated.
One of the biggest barriers to getting help, however, is just asking.
The aging in place movement is “about building community and getting to know neighbors,” Wells said. “It’s neighbors helping neighbors.”
Emily Gordon attended the meeting and said they sometimes draw up to 200 people. A former social worker, she moved 10 years ago from the Northeast where aging in place projects are a bit more common.
“Info is power,” she said. “We really need this type of supportive system.”