Geriatric psychiatrist Charles “Chip” Reynolds III has for decades been one of Pittsburgh’s and the nation’s leading scholars and
Aging at home
In survey after survey, older adults across America have stated that their preference for where to spend their retirement years is in their own home, even as health difficulties make it harder for them to manage.
Sometimes this is easier said than done, as our increasingly mobile society and declining birth rates have reduced the number of family members nearby to help out with household chores, medical needs and other caregiving.
The cost of professional home aides and nurses can be a deterrent for families other than those with substantial savings or who are in that small minority that purchased long-term care insurance during their healthy, productive earnings years. Paying on your own for such help through an agency may entail an hourly cost of $20 or more. If you don’t qualify for government help due to income, you may find help by choosing one of the private home care agencies in the Pittsburgh area at http://www.homehealthcareagencies.com/directory/pa/pittsburgh/.
An added challenge for seniors around Western Pennsylvania is the older nature of the housing stock compared to many regions, making it harder to maintain. Paying for repairs on top of property taxes can be daunting when you’re on a fixed income.
The housing itself is also steeper than in most cities, thus troublesome for those with arthritic knees, breathing difficulties, heart conditions and other health issues. Many homes have numerous steps both indoors and to the street outside. If someone has difficulty with stairs but lives in a multi-story home with no bathroom on the first floor, maintaining independence becomes a steep challenge.
Various help is available from government programs and nonprofit agencies to assist those who want to stay at home despite increasing frailties, though the assistance is sometimes available only to those with low to moderate incomes. Contacting the Area Agency on Aging (412-350-5460 in Allegheny County) or United Way (dial 2-1-1) may connect a household to government-sponsored or private agency programs that provide helpful home modifications, such as the Sustainable Home Improvement Partnership.
Government funding has gradually been shifting to more support for home services instead of institutionalized care since it stretches public dollars further, in addition to giving Pennsylvania’s older adults what they want.
One recommendation for all older adults living at home, regardless of finances, is a simple safety check that can help avoid falls, as injuries such as hip fractures can be part of a downward health spiral from which it’s hard to recover. That means removing rugs that slip, assuring good lighting throughout the home, installing grab bars in bathrooms, securing railings, replacing smoke detector batteries regularly and other safeguards.
Most individuals 65 or older living in their own home or apartment are eligible for annual property tax refunds or rent rebates of $650 or more, as one benefit from the state lottery. Here’s information on eligibility and how to apply.
Public transportation help is also available, whether through free mass transit rides or discounted on-demand shuttle services such as Allegheny County’s Access program. Click here for more information.
Dialing 2-1-1 will link callers to possible help from United Way-funded programs assisting seniors at home in southwestern Pennsylvania, such as those providing friendly home visitors or making regular phone calls to a homebound person.
The most important step for most people, however, is to contact your county’s Area Agency on Aging (see list below) to see what help an older adult may qualify for. That could include the following:
OPTIONS: State-supported home care help is made available on a sliding-scale basis, depending on a person’s needs and income:
AGING WAIVER: Low-income seniors deemed to have health problems sufficient to qualify for nursing home care are eligible for extensive home assistance to avoid placement in an institution.
LIFE: At various Living Independence for the Elderly managed care locations in the region, a team of medical and social service professionals coordinates the health and safety issues of low-income seniors who are assisted both at home and at day care sites they regularly visit.
CAREGIVING: If individuals qualifying by need and income for home assistance would rather hire someone they know to be their paid help instead of using an agency, the state can subsidize that cost. Family caregivers also may be eligible for help paying for supplies or respite breaks.
MODIFICATIONS: Financial support is sometimes available to make a home safer and more accessible for a disabled older adult.
Allegheny County Area Agency on Aging (412-350-5460) www.alleghenycounty.us/dhs/olderadults.aspx
Armstrong County Area Agency on Aging (724-548-3290) www.co.armstrong.pa.us/services/aaa
Beaver County Office on Aging (724-847-2262) www.beavercountypa.gov/office-aging
Butler County Area Agency on Aging (724-282-3008) www.co.butler.pa.us/Area-Agency-on-Aging
Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging Inc. (Serving Washington, Greene and Fayette counties jointly) 1-888-300-2704 www.swpa-AAA.org
Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging (724-830-4444) www.co.westmoreland.pa.us/aging
United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania Dial 2-1-1 for information on home assistance programs.
Rachael Wonderlin, 28, is a gerontologist and dementia care consultant who has been a staff member specializing in care of those with
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