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By J.C. Amodea
Maintaining independence for seniors is one of life’s most challenging issues and one each of us must face, either on behalf of family or, at some point, ourselves. Whether it is facing a life transition, overcoming grief or loss, food insecurity, financial need or dwindling social opportunities, it is a fact of life that bears address.
We chatted with the leaders of three southwest Florida organizations who offer services and programs for seniors to assist in maintaining dignity, freedom and a sense of self-worth.
Maintaining Senior Independence at Naples Senior Center
Dr. Jaclynn Faffer, President, CEO, Naples Senior Center (NSC), a nonprofit organization successfully operating on the generosity of the community and grant funding that utilizes only licensed credentialed professionals, supported by over 200 volunteers.
Faffer says that if you think about independence as maintaining one’s autonomy over his or her life, then you have to think about how seniors can remain independent. That includes physical activity and the capacity to make decisions for themselves.
“We first see isolation and loneliness which must be combatted for seniors to maintain a sense of connection. Research shows that isolation and loneliness lead to emotional issues as well as physical and cognitive decline, so, there’s the emotional and cognitive strengthening that comes about from being with other people,” she says.
“Then, there’s the physical activity, because to be independent, one has to be in a certain healthy physical state.”
To that end, NSC has a robust physical activity program including tai chi, chair yoga, heart-healthy activity, a soft physical activity program and a dementia respite program.
“Being able to make decisions for oneself is important, and we recognize that sociologically, one often depends upon a cohort with whom to check decisions. We have many ‘elder orphans,’ who don’t have children or a spouse, and they are on their own,” says Faffer.
“We have a retired family court judge that conducts a program, ‘Connect,’ for seniors who are alone, designed to foster a sense of community among themselves, to have someone to connect with socially and to bounce ideas off of, in terms of life decisions that one needs to make as they age.”
Reflecting the NSC commitment to the on-going impact on seniors’ lives, during COVID, after the first week of closing, NSC volunteers called every one of its 1,200 members and reached out.
NSC also offered Zoom activities including educational and interactive programs, an exercise program, and Connect met weekly with over 100 members on a virtual platform. The dementia program continued virtually for two and a half hours a day led by a licensed and credentialed clinician with sharing sessions followed by music therapy, brain fitness activities and games.
“Nothing takes the place of bringing people together, but with the uptick in COVID cases in Collier County, resuming in-center operations is not even on our radar. For the most vulnerable, we continue to increase our virtual offerings and we continue to be amazed at how quickly the seniors have been able to transfer to this platform,” says Faffer.
While in the future, NSC will continue to offer a virtual component like the dementia respite program, art program, and a “Guy Time” men’s discussion group, Faffer added that everyone is saying how eager they are to return to NSC and to be together.
Maintaining Senior Independence at McKenney Homecare
Patrice Magrath, JD, managing member, financial officer of McKenney Homecare agrees that it is not uncommon to see bereavement, social isolation and loneliness impact seniors.
“Seniors tend to have fewer opportunities for social engagement than younger age groups. They retire from jobs, children move away, friends and spouses pass away, and eventually, they may become housebound if they lose the ability to drive or become ill. Studies show seniors who live alone often experience social isolation and chronic feelings of loneliness,” she says.
“While assistance from a caregiver can help counteract these issues, we are fortunate in Collier County to have affordable and accessible community resources such as the Naples Senior Center which provide the opportunity for seniors to interact with their peers in a positive, stimulating and interactive environment.”
Magrath says that as seniors age, muscles and bones begin to weaken, eyesight and hearing diminish or are lost, and mobility often becomes limited. Seniors also suffer from dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease in fairly large numbers. She notes that due to physical or mental health conditions, about three percent of those over 65 and 10 percent of those over 75 need assistance with at least one daily living activity, such as bathing or preparing a meal.
“Declining health can be difficult for older adults to accept, and they often see the help that can keep them independent longer as a sign of weakness, so, they are reluctant to accept it. However, without the help, seniors are likely to lose their independence earlier,” Magrath added.
McKenney Homecare offers compassionate, experienced caregivers for in-home assistance to ensure seniors have consistent human interaction, regular and nutritious meals and stimulating activities. Caregivers use an interactive approach to in-home care that promotes a senior’s natural ability to perform.
“Action-oriented activities around the home and in the community, socialization and assistance keeping in touch with family will improve a senior’s confidence as well as allow them to do as much as they can for as long as they can. Feeling connected, strong and confident are significant factors that contribute to emotional well-being.”
Maintaining Senior Independence at Golden Gate Senior Center
Tatiana Fortune, M.S.W., Senior Center Director, Golden Gate Senior Center (GGSC) reports that socializing is paramount in ensuring healthy senior independent living.
“Many seniors that we see live far from family and friends or they are experiencing loss. So, if seniors have a strong network or are connected to a local group, it helps maintain their independence. Regular phone calls and staying in touch through communication with those they know and are familiar with helps a great deal,” Fortune says.
Another issue that she identified is isolation and loneliness. Regardless of socioeconomic background, many seniors fall into depression, necessitating the need for mental health services in the community.
“We have a women’s group, the UPSLIDE program that addresses depression, loneliness, and isolation and provides access to a mental health professional. Seniors need connections to the right resources. Many don’t know where to turn – we are that place,” says Fortune.
“Our mission is to provide access services to enhance the quality of life of older adults so they can maintain independent and meaningful lives. We seek to promote independence as a full-service senior center that can point them to resources.”
The center provides a wide range of services and recreational activities like bingo, exercise classes, music and art therapy, computer classes, vision screening and support groups – all to help seniors live independent, vibrant lives. Hispanic seniors can take English and citizenship classes. As a non-profit, GGSC has access to funding to help in emergencies and can offer financial assistance.
Naples Senior Center supports and enriches the lives of seniors and their families in Collier County and southern Lee County communities by providing tools to address life’s challenges. Programs and services include dementia respite support, geriatric case management, emotional support services and a food pantry. For more information, Contact Naples Senior Center at JFCS at (239) 325-4444, email email@example.com or visit naplesseniorcenter.org.
McKenney Home Care, a family-owned, private pay home care agency provides in-home health services and client-centered care to maximize the quality of life of their clients and families, ensuring social engagement and specialty services during all stages of life. McKenney Home Care provides private duty in-home care to assist seniors in staying safely in their homes (whether a facility or private home). Licensed and accredited, they provide everything from Companion Care where seniors are assisted with driving, maintaining social calendars and doctor’s appointments, planning and preparing meals, light housekeeping.
Home Health Aides help with activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing, eating, toileting, and transfers, and skilled care by an RN or LPN, including medication management and administration and other skilled services are available. For more information, call the Sarasota location (941) 548-1182 or the Naples location at 239-325-CARE (2273), or visit mckenneyhomecare.com.
The Golden Gate Senior Center, opened by Collier Senior Resources in 2014, provides a variety of programs, classes, hot lunches, food pantry, employment assistance, and resources for seniors and caregivers, in the heart of Golden Gate City. For more information, contact Tatiana Fortune at 239 2524541 or visit goldengateseniorcenter.org.