Survey shows healthy, active senior population

But apprehensive about the future
Fri, 08/31/2018 - 9:15am

A recent survey conducted by the members of the Senior Advisory Commission showed an elder demographic living on Block Island that is increasingly concerned about health issues, but also a group that is active both mentally and physically, and one that has a sense of humor about growing older.

There is an undercurrent of worry in the survey results. As one survey respondent said in a section of the survey that asked if there were any health concerns, “Just... what happens if...?”

That is the reason why the SAC is focused on providing services for the island’s elderly population so that they may “age in place.”

Currently, the SAC receives a stipend of about $16,000 from the town, which  funds a Health Services Coordinator who works 10 hours a week. The SAC is trying to stay ahead of the curve by finding out the scope of services that may be needed in the next decade. 

“This is a legitimate constituency that needs to be taken care of with more than the $16,000 in the budget,” said SAC Chair Sandra Kelly. 

The SAC actually sent out two surveys: one for caregivers, which received 31 responses, and one directed at the elderly population directly, which received 231 responses. 

“We can draw conclusions that will help us respond to the community in a meaningful way,” said Senior Coordinator Gloria Redlich. Redlich said these needs can change rapidly. She told the story of one person who just six months ago was managing well on their own, but the situation had recently deteriorated to the point where the SAC was asked to intervene. Redlich said of that situation “there should be someone living in the home as a caregiver. There’s a need for a caregiver to be in place,” she said.

Of the 31 respondents to the caregiver survey, 92 percent said they were giving care to a family member or friend. A total of 84 percent said they were not being paid for the services provided, while at the same time 72 percent said that providing care did not put them in a financial bind. The vast majority of those receiving care were either elderly, suffering from a cognitive disease, or a combination of the two. 

The services provided were basic: helping someone get in and out of bed; showering or bathing; meal preparation; assisting with medications, or something as elementary and essential as providing company as an antidote to loneliness. Sixty percent of the respondents said the person they care for has no one else to tend to them.

The need for training, which is what the members of the SAC hope to one day provide, was great. These caregivers asked for training in a number of areas, including something as broad as “keeping a person safe at home,” “dealing with challenging behaviors… incontinence,” “managing [the caregivers’] stress,” and “learning about respite or time-off from caregiving.” 

At the same time, when asked if they would take advantage if proper training was provided, the answers were almost evenly split between yes and no.

When asked what kind of respite care should be provided on Block Island, the respondents said that in-home care and some kind of day activities programs should be offered. 

Of the 231 seniors that answered the survey dedicated to their needs, 67 percent of the respondents were female; 33 percent male. The majority were married. Most seemed to be in good health, with less than 2 percent saying their health was poor. 

However, 172 responses to a “Do you have health concerns?” question yielded dozens of responses: mobility issues, arthritis, effects of Lyme disease, balance issues, hearing and sight issues, weight problems, back pain, Parkinson’s, diabetes, breathing issues, stroke, blood pressure, and others.

When asked who they would rely on if health concerns became a real issue, the vast majority — 90 percent — said: Myself.

Survey responses did portray an active senior community. Many daily activities were listed, including: travel, painting, dinner with friends, cycling, rowing, writing, cooking, church activities, gardening, skiing, exercise, photography, fishing, listening to music, croquet, swimming, dog walking, dancing, beach-going, horseback riding, sailing, hiking, working, playing cards, visiting friends, going to the movies and socializing. 

When asked what services Block Island needed for its elderly population, the respondents echoed similar needs that have been expressed in the past: assisted living facilities, Meals-On-Wheels, and, a popular response, a recreation center with a pool and a gym and other social activities. 

Others had their own solutions: “Marry someone younger!” was one response, and still others expressed a healthy optimism: “At age 91, it is likely that I will need assistance of some kind in 5 to 10 years — in-home if possible.”