Sunday, March 13, 2011

No place like home

Mike is a former aviation storekeeper and airline baggage handler whose time in the Navy took him to the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam. His father, an airline mechanic, was stationed at Pearl Harbor during the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941.

Beverly, a Buffalo, N.Y., native, left college early against her parents’ wishes to realize her childhood dream of becoming a flight attendant. She once persuaded a reluctant pilot to allow the band Kiss to board a flight — in full makeup and costume. “They behaved,” she notes, chuckling at the memory.

But life for the Shannons, who have been married for 36 years, now continues at a slower pace. These days Mike, 64, is interested mostly in reading books about military history. He’s pondering the idea of purchasing a Kindle or Nook and wonders how he might get rid of some of the 900 or so books that are stashed haphazardly throughout the house, including in bathroom closets.

Beverly, 63, is active at the Faribault Senior Center and serves on the center’s programs committee. She suffers from multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, diseases that have presented an entirely new set of challenges for the couple. A traffic accident 15 months ago that left Mike with a broken finger and ultimately a knee replacement and Beverly with eight broken ribs exacerbated her condition.

“When I was a kid in my 40s, never in a gazillion years did I think I’d be handling this now,” says Beverly.

Three years ago the couple sold a large, four-level home near Prior Lake, in part because steps were becoming too much for Beverly to handle. They share their new home with their cat, Yankee Bell, and laid-back English Springer Spaniel, Bandit.

The couple has no intention of moving anywhere else any time soon, although they also realize they’re not growing any younger.

“Maybe it’s because it’s a painful subject, but we don’t think about it a lot,” Beverly said of the changes that must inevitably come with growing older. “You kind of want things to stay the same.”

‘She would have been all alone’

Chader still remembers the husband and wife who resided in the retirement community where she was a social worker. She still remembers the night the husband had the heart attack and wound up in the hospital. She remembers sitting with the wife the rest of the night, there at the hospital, as the husband died, all because the couple had no family in the area.

“Otherwise she would have been all alone,” Chader recalled. “I didn’t want people to go through such a crisis on their own.”

But Chader said she believed many people were, in fact, going through such a crisis on their own. That belief helped prompt her in 1996 to start Elder Care Services, which serves elderly people around both the Mankato and Faribault areas.

Elder Care Services describes its goal as promoting independence and home care and is a business licensed to do home management. To Chader, however, the undertaking is more ministry than business.

“I consider it a ministry, first and foremost,” she said. “It’s just very rewarding to know you’ve made a difference — that if you weren’t there, that person would be all alone going through this. We’ve kept people healthier, we’ve kept them in their homes longer. They know they can depend on us to be there for them.”

Chader and her staff aren’t licensed to supervise medication use, dress clients or bathe them. But they can provide — and are willing to provide — a multitude of other services, everything from running errands to bringing sick clients to doctor’s appointments to helping facilitate the discharge of patients at hospitals. In short, Chader says, her staff provides many of the non-medical services that might easily fall through the cracks.

Elder Care Services is one of a growing number of options available that allow seniors to stay in their homes longer. The options, at their core, allow seniors to get the assistance they need while maintaining an independent lifestyle in the environment they’re most comfortable in — their own home. 

The options span everything from services such as home health care or home management to Meals on Wheels and programs like the Faribault Senior Friendship Program, which provides friendship to homebound adults. The AARP even provides information on how seniors can make their home better fit their needs, noting in one pamphlet that “simple (home) alterations can prevent one-third of all home accidents” and will “increase the likelihood of your remaining independent in your home and community.”

But getting that assistance is key.

“Studies have shown that people live a higher quality of life and perhaps longer if they can be in their own homes — as long as they have the help and services that they need in their own homes,” said Peggy Dunton, a Cannon Valley Clinic nurse who specializes in primary care.

On the other hand, elderly who need assistance but continue to live at home without any may actually deteriorate at a faster rate, becoming isolated and lonely.

And, even with assistance, people may reach the point where they should no longer be living in their own home.

“Sometimes people are trying to be in an environment physically and cognitively they can’t manage anymore,” said Melissa McGowan, OTR/L, an occupational therapist at Immanuel St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mankato. McGowan noted that such people frequently wind up in the hospital, whether because of falls or poor nutrition or errors in taking medication.

‘It takes a wake-up call’

When does someone reach the point of — even with assistance — not being able to live at home anymore?

Chader said it can be hard to know exactly when that time is, but that the health of each individual needs to be assessed on an ongoing basis. The one point she and others emphasize is the concept of safety: Can a person remain safely at home? 

Chader will look for particular signs: Is someone burning food on the stove or forgetting to shut the stove off? Is someone able to get in or out of a chair safely or to the bathroom safely? Is someone able to summon help if needed?

Frequently, said Spronk, seniors will hold off on making a move until a major accident occurs.

“Oftentimes, because it’s such a difficult subject to broach, it takes a wake-up call,” she said. “Someone has fallen on the floor in the middle of the night or fallen on the floor and broken a hip. That’s the wake-up call.”

Spronk cares for 10 residents at Heritage House, many of whom require high levels of assistance. She and her staff are licensed to care for people with dementia or who need assistance with dressing, bathing or other basics of life.

But moving out of home doesn’t have to equal a miserable future, said Spronk, who indicated some assisted living facilities are geared toward more independent seniors who require less care. 

In fact, she said, people often thrive in an assisted living setting. Spronk focuses on creating a family atmosphere at Heritage House, decorating the facility with furniture and plants, providing an on-site beauty shop and encouraging residents to make their individual rooms their own by bringing in some of their own belongings.

According to the Faribault Senior Center’s Brenda Johnson, even many nursing homes have taken steps to make life more comfortable for their residents through “culture change.”

“Typically in the nursing home many, many years ago, if breakfast is served at 7:30 a.m. or 8, everybody has to be served at 7:30 or 8,” Johnson said. “With culture change you ... might work with small groups of residents within the nursing home, and say that one of the residents doesn’t want to get up and eat breakfast until 10. That’s fine, they don’t have to report to breakfast at 7:30 and 8.”

‘You’re going to grow older anyway’

Beverly Shannon is trying to describe the effects of aging, but the exact description is eluding her.

“You lose, what’s the word?” she asks, searching for it unsuccessfully.

“Your mind?” quips husband Mike, who never misses an opportunity to display his razor-sharp sense of humor.

Beverly laughs. That’s not quite what she was going to say. “The ability to keep track of dates and time,” she continues.

Mona Kaiser, the director of the Senior Center, recognizes that such everyday aspects of life — once taken for granted — can grow more challenging with age.

“Most of the people in that situation realize that it’s move it or lose it,” she said. “You have to keep walking, you have to keep mentally sharp — all of those things they had been doing they have to keep doing because as soon as you stop, the aches and pains set in.”

Kaiser’s work at the Senior Center brings her in close proximity to the challenges senior citizens face. It also brings her to those who are still mowing their own lawn, still shoveling their own snow and still leading active, fulfilling lives.

One of the Senior Center’s responsibilities, she says, is to make options available to people and help them reach out to others when necessary. This includes even adults who might be providing some level of assistance to an elderly parent, relative or friend. A six-week series of workshops taking place this month at the Senior Center focuses on the very subject of helping family caregivers.

Kaiser, in fact, describes family and spouses as the “first line” in providing assistance to seniors. 

“It’s all about the love they have and the children who are looking at it like, ‘You know what, look at what my parents did for me. Now it’s my turn,’” she said. “There really is a lot of compassion.”

“We all want to live in our place of choice for our entire life and that’s been true for all generations,” Johnson added. “There’s nothing bad or wrong about needing to go to a nursing home ... or moving to assisted living. Those aren’t bad choices that people make, but I think overall people do want to stay autonomous and the best way to do that is stay in your home, providing they can get the services they need.”

Johnson also emphasized the importance of making seniors still feel connected to their community, a subject that hits home for Beverly Shannon. Shannon admits she feels lonely and disconnected from the friends she had after moving to Faribault. But, she says, being active at the Senior Center has helped her stay engaged, active and meeting new people.

Perhaps that engagement is what allows her to keep a positive outlook on the years ahead.

“You’re going to grow older anyway,” she said. “You might as well embrace the things that are going to happen to you.” 

3. Aviation Authority reopens airport

THE Civil Aviation Authority of the Philippines (Caap) announced Thursday the opening of the Zamboanga International Airport (ZIA) runway to air traffic after it was closed for a day.

Caap closed the ZIA runway to air traffic Wednesday after a Manila-bound Airbus A320 of the Philippine Airlines (PAL) with flight number PR-124 was stuck in a mud at the end of Runway 09 while preparing to take-off.

Neha Jain

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