Independent Living Centers Help Obliterate Obstacles to Aging with Disabilities in Rural Communities

Feb 20, 2014, 14:17 ET from California State Independent Living Council (SILC)

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 20, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- As California baby boomers enter their senior years, many will face the unique challenges of living independently in rural areas. According to the California Department of Aging's State Plan on Aging 2013-2017, the number of people age 60 and older is expected to soar to 13.9 million by 2050, a 128 percent increase from 2010, representing 25 percent of all Californians.

As the senior population has increased, so has the cost of nursing facilities. During the past five years, the median annual cost of a semi-private room in a California nursing home jumped 24 percent from $67,527 to $83,950 according to Genworth's 2013 Cost of Care Survey. In-home care costs, however, are rising at a much slower pace and tend to be less expensive than institutional care. Genworth's survey indicates home care services, ranging from cleaning, cooking and transportation to bathing and grooming, average between $50,336 to $52,510 annually in California.

"Studies have shown most people prefer to receive care in their own homes rather than moving to a nursing home or assisted living facility," noted California State Independent Living Council (SILC) Executive Director Liz Pazdral. "However, aging with disabilities in a rural community can be daunting if support services are limited."

A 2012 SILC paper titled "People with Disabilities Aging in Rural Communities" identified transportation, isolation and access to health care as the top three issues that can make living independently in rural areas difficult or impossible.

"The lack of resources, especially transportation and in-home health support services, is a huge issue in Humboldt County," confirmed Chris Jones, Executive Director of Tri-County Independent Living, Inc. (TCIL) based in Eureka, California. "Public transportation, for example, only runs during limited hours, and there is no continuous flow from one end of the county to the other. The Area 1 Agency on Aging (A1AA) provides some transportation through its Volunteer Drive Program for medical appointments."

Finding the right caregiver can be another hurdle in rural areas. Since Humboldt County offers a limited list through its Care Provider Registry, most residents must advertise for caregivers in newspapers or on Craig's List, post a flyer or find someone by word of mouth. And many seniors are on their own when it comes to interviewing caregivers and checking their backgrounds. TCIL staff helps consumers learn about qualifications for personal assistant care and locate qualified individuals who are affordable, competent and reliable. The center also provides a place for interviewing potential caregivers either by phone or in person.

The affordable housing shortage also is a deterrent to living independently. According to Jones, housing is incredibly expensive, and affordable, accessible housing is scarce. TCIL staff helps individuals find housing and address issues, such as modifications to make a home accessible.

"It's next to impossible to find housing under $500 a month in our area other than Section 8 housing, which has a two-year waiting list," said Jones. "Trying to cover housing, food, medical and living expenses on a fixed income is a real challenge."

To remain independent, people with disabilities also turn to TCIL for assistive technology (AT) such as screen readers, text telephones, hearing devices, pocket talkers, magnifiers and more. Jones has discovered seniors are much more tech savvy these days, and the Internet helps to address the issue of isolation. At TCIL's computer lab, individuals can try out various keyboards and mice or borrow AT devices at no cost from the vast lending library to determine which devices are most appropriate for their needs.

Complementing TCIL is Humboldt County's A1AA, which connects older adults to critical services and trains family and professional caregivers. The A1AA funds the nutrition program that is administered by the local senior center and provides congregate lunches and meals-on-wheels. Senior centers also offer classes, social events and computers for public use. And the Internet is another resource for seniors such as PBS NewsHour's series on aging and long-term care.

"Each day at TCIL brings new opportunities for our staff to make a difference in someone's life," said Jones, "and it is gratifying when our work makes a difference."

A case in point was helping a married couple who had been communicating in writing for more than 20 years after the wife lost her voice due to cancer. A TCIL staff member introduced them to a speech-generating keyboard that allowed the wife to type what she wanted to say. When the computer generated her voice, both were so elated that they started chatting away. It was an emotional moment for everyone. The couple borrowed the device for 30 days after which TCIL helped them locate one to purchase.

"Essentially, we're the link between the information someone needs and exploring options to help them live well and independently," concluded Jones. "We have to be resourceful as services dry up and disappear. Fortunately, we live in a tight community where people can rely on each other to live independently."

The California State Independent Living Council (SILC) is an independent state agency which, in cooperation with the California State Department of Rehabilitation, prepares and monitors the State Plan for Independent Living.

The SILC Mission: To Create Policy and System Change for Independent Living

SOURCE California State Independent Living Council (SILC)