Words of wisdom: Seniors weigh in on state’s four-year aging plan

  • Facilitator Jo Moncher talks with the group talking about issues of the aging population at GoodLife at 254 North State Street in Concord earlier this week. GEOFF FORESTER—Monitor staff

  • Denise Clattenburgof Chichester listens to the conversation on aging issues at Goodlife on North State Street in Concord earlier this week. GEOFF FORESTER

Monitor staff
Published: 11/30/2018 5:40:10 PM

Cindi Thorell’s father had never shown signs of depression.

But when her mother died, and he progressed into his 80s and 90s, Thorell’s father lost interest in the activities he used to love. Even getting up in the morning became a difficult task, she said.

Thorell, of Pembroke, said this is an issue that many adults face as they get older.

“They’ll have no issue with mental illness, and all of a sudden, they start having it, because of loss, because of not working anymore, because of being isolated,” she said.

And while Thorell’s father had her for support before he died, many aging people have no one to turn to when they start feeling that way, she said.

“It’s scary. People who have never dealt with it before, and all of a sudden they’re having an issue with it, there’s still a stigma out there,” Thorell said. “They don’t want to have to tell people, ‘I think I’m depressed, or having some problems.’ ”

Thorell was one of about 100 people who came to the GoodLife Programs & Activities building in Concord on Wednesday to discuss the state’s four-year plan on aging.

The state’s current plan, put in place in 2015, expires next year and the Department of Health and Human Services is hosting 13 two-hour listening sessions across the state to get feedback on what to include in the new one. The state plan, required for every state that receives Older American’s Act funds, is due in July 2019.

Feedback from the listening session, along with a 29-question survey that the department has been circulating, will be some of the most important building blocks for the new state plan, facilitator Jo Moncher said.

“Instead of us giving you a plan, ‘Hey, we put this plan together, what do you guys think? Why don’t you edit it?’ – we haven’t started writing the plan yet. We are in the very early stages of this,” Moncher told the crowd in Concord. “The beginning of this starts with all of this feedback. It starts with you.”

Attendees of the listening session gave detailed – and often personal – critiques.

Thorell said she’s experienced her own challenges with depression – which peaked when she retired at age 61. Thorell had support, but even then, her illness was hard to manage. She said she was one of the lucky ones, with good resources, great insurance, and the knowledge to get help. Even so, it was hard to find a doctor who could diagnose and help her.

“It took me six months – it was ridiculous,” she said. 

“Getting older, it kind of scares me, I don’t have kids and I need to be able to have people that are going to be there for me,” she added.

One topic of conversation that came up was the need for increased support for older adults who want to continue to live at home as they age.

Marc Lacroix, of Concord, said he travels up to Berlin – where he grew up and his 92-year-old father still lives – at least once or twice a week to drive him to doctor’s appointments, or make safety adjustments to his home. He said many of his dad’s friends have medical conditions and have no one to care for them.

“There are basic things that keep people in place. Like, I just put a rail in the shower for him to hold onto to keep him safe. I pick up his rugs so he doesn’t trip,” he said. “I do that for my dad, but there are people who don’t have that. And that’s really problematic.”

In April, Lacroix’s dad was experiencing shortness of breath, and having trouble climbing stairs. A doctor said it was simply a symptom of aging – but Lacroix thought it was something more. He pushed the doctor to investigate further, and it turned out he was right.

“My father would have never advocated for himself in that way. But I was able to, so we were able to get a diagnosis and we were able to treat that,” Lacroix said.

A few attendees expressed concern about the lack of adult day care options in the state. Denise Clattenburg, 74, of Chichester, said daycare can be a less expensive alternative to assisted living – and a lifeline for caregivers on a tight budget who need to keep working.

“That kind of service seems to be very, very limited. There are all kinds of organizations, but to have something that is as centrally located in Concord area would be great,” she said. “The availability of people who need to take a loved one to be bathed, or to be babysat for the day, or any of those kinds of things – that is lacking.”

TLC, Concord’s only adult day care center announced it would be closing its doors Nov. 21 due to lack of funding, leaving no other options.

Attendees were asked to list things they like about aging in Concord.

Claudia Rein, of Concord, said she likes events put on by GoodLife and AARP. She said this fall she went on a fun trip to Diamond Hill Farm in Concord with AARP.

“Getting people together to communicate with each other and take trips and to exercise, to learn about aging, that’s amazing,” she said.

Maryanne Hammond, 72 , of Hillsboro, said those kinds of services don’t really exist outside the city. She started an organization, Greater Hillsboro Senior Services, to help with some of that – but it has its limits.

“We’re in a quandary because we don’t have a building, we do have a bus, our bus was a second-hand bus, and we’ve been able to offer shopping trips for people, and fun trips and things like that, but we’ve struggled for funding,” Hammond said. “We’ve struggled to provide our monthly luncheon.”

“We don’t have what you have here in Concord,” she said.

Joan Marcoux said hearing loss is one of the most common health conditions facing individuals over 70, and many service providers and senior centers don’t provide accommodations, like using microphones or on-screen captioning.

“I see people not be able to go or participate because they cant hear what’s going on in bingo. They’re afraid to ask what the numbers are,” she said. “There is so much easy technology to help people be engaged that don’t cost that much.”

“Service providers have no excuse as to not being able to provide communication access for hearing so that people can feel included and not feel like they need to stay home because they’re embarrassed about not being able to hear,” she
added.

Moncher said the department is approaching this new plan on aging differently than pasts plans in that the committee wont be considering funding when they create it. They’ll create the plan entirely based on need, and then see what the state is able to provide.

“Are we going to be able to handle whatever comes forward?” Moncher said. “We’re  going to see.”

The final listening session will be held




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