What Immigrants Teach us about Aging

Bowne Park 2014 by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Last Sunday, my early morning walk took me to Bowne Park in North Flushing, NY an oasis of trees, grass and walking paths surrounding a pond in the borough of Queens. I wandered past the neatly manicured lawns of single family homes first built by the successful physician and attorney sons of Irish and Italian immigrants, now inhabited by their Korean and Chinese counterparts. I joined the dog walkers doing laps around the park, past the basketball court where my son once played, perfecting his three point shot through a chain-link hoop. On one end of the court, a future Jeremy Lin practiced his layup while on the other, four grandparents stretched in synchronous motion, practicing their tai chi.

Ahead, an elderly woman stepped up and down the on the lower rung of the climber where my daughter once scampered gleefully showcasing her skills on the slide and jungle gym. On my left, another did gentle pushups on the back of a park bench near which two men and a woman chatted, speaking in tongues and sharing a laugh.

I live in two worlds. In one, I engage with global leaders worried about an aging America. State governments shudder at the cost of long-term care. Health care providers predict rising demand while business leaders offer employees flexible benefits and housing leaders construct more assisted living complexes, anticipating future demand from aging boomers. In this world, I speak nationally about strategies for supporting an older America, coach families who need guidance through the perplexing maze of available options while encouraging entrepreneurs bursting with ideas that can make a difference.

In the second world of my personal life, I see easy solutions that are blind spots to those whose vision of the future includes separating seniors from their families. I returned home from my walk, climbed the front stairs, and unlocked the door of my mother-in-law’s home that I have shared for the past twenty years. Despite the street appearance of a single family home, the interior opens to three separate apartments each inhabited by family members. As children and teenagers, a visit to grandparents by my children meant running upstairs while a trip to their great-aunt and uncle required a loop outside to the backyard and three steps back inside to knock on their kitchen door. My husband, his brother and cousins were raised in this home along with their grandmother after whom our daughter and niece are named.

This week, we put the family home up for sale. At 89, it’s time for my mother-in-law to transition to a new home closer to her physician son. With only two days notice, 19 realtors attended the open house, and we received 15 offers within five days, all but one from Asian families planning to use the home as it was intended, a place of inter-generational love and support, with walking access to stores, the post office, buses and the railroad, a 20 minute commute to downtown Manhattan.

In few decades, my husband and I will need to downsize. Will we move into a retirement community in a sunny locale, find an assisted living community to live with strangers, or will we build a new three family home and invite our children and theirs to grow old with us? Only time will tell.

c 2014 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

Home Care, Adult Day Health and Supportive Living

sanborn placeby Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Each month I visit assisted living and continuous care retirement communities to learn more about housing options for seniors. While most are well-managed, beautifully-appointed communities replete with book clubs and outings, dining rooms and transportation services, I remain uncomfortable that these communities are financially out-of-reach for the majority of moderate-income families. Last week I visited Reading, Massachusetts, population 24,747, to meet Jacqueline Carson, executive director of Sanborn Place, an integrated care solution for lower income seniors and adults with disabilities that includes home care, adult day services, and a continuous care housing option. Recently, Sanborn Place has received national attention and will be featured in Dr. Atul Gawande’s next book on elder care and end of life.

Here are the three programs Jacqui supervises:

Sanborn Home Care provides home care services in short increments, if necessary, working in partnership with the local Visiting Nurses Association, the VNA of Middlesex East.

Sanborn Day is an adult day health center with capacity for 75 seniors or younger people with disabilities. Visually resembling the lobby of an upscale hotel, the center provides breakfast and lunch, exercise classes in partnership with the local YMCA, physical therapy, medication supervision, counseling for caregivers, and activities including a pool table, crafts, and computer games such as the Dakim Brain Fitness Program. My visit interrupted a game of charades with a roomful of joyful elders and it included an unanticipated discussion about the Massachusetts governor’s race with a well-informed senior.

Sanborn Place is a non-profit, federally funded facility for seniors whose incomes do not exceed $33,050 (single) or $37,800 (couple). Upon arrival, I was greeted by four older women sitting in the lobby who proudly revealed their ages: 93, 95, 87 and 83 as they awaited their friend, age 102, who was taking a nap. The community has 73 units, half assigned to seniors who require daily support, others for those needing weekly support or none at all. Each apartment includes a living room and kitchen with a private bath and bedroom not unlike those in high-end communities. Seniors remain in their apartment until the end of their lives.

Payment for these services comes from many sources including Medicare (for skilled nursing care and PT or OT services), HUD, the Veterans Benefits, and Mass Health.

While many communities offer similar programs, what’s unique is the integrated way that care is provided and the number of private citizens involved. Jacqui oversees the delivery of these three programs supported by a stellar team of professionals and individuals like brothers Gregg and Bruce Johnson, who created DKJ Foundation in honor of their father to raise funds for Sanborn Place. You may learn more about their foundation here.

As the tsunami of boomers age, many without enough family members to fill the role of caregiver, I remain encouraged and inspired by people like Jacqui, Bruce and Gregg who take responsibility for the well-being of all of the older citizens in their town and do so with a passionate commitment to help them remain a vibrant part of the community they’ve always called home.

© 2013 Circle of Life Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.