Forum addresses quality of life for seniors
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06/17/08 Seán Kinane
WMNF Drive-Time News Tuesday | Listen to this entire show:

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The Florida Department of Elder Affairs and the AARP held a forum today in Tampa about the Communities for a Lifetime program, which is a statewide initiative assisting Florida cities and counties to plan and implement improvements to benefit both youth and elder residents.

Nicole Hargraves is director of Volunteer and Intergenerational Programs with the Florida Department of Elder Affairs. “Communities for a Lifetime is just that: an opportunity for everyone to age in place, in their communities, intellectually, physically and socially,” Hargraves said.

It is important for elders to be able to live at home and in their communities rather than in a nursing home, according to Charlotte McHenry, vice president of Community Services for the West Central Florida Area Agency on Aging.

“People just want to live out their years in their own home because of the quality of life that they can provide and be with their family, their children, their grandchildren and watch them grow in their community,” she said.

Some of the issues facing youth and seniors are similar, according to Doug Beach, secretary of Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs. In Communities for a Lifetime neighborhoods it make sense for them to be able to share some of the same resources such as community centers, Beach said.

The poverty rate among seniors was about 40 percent in the 1960s, Beach said, but it has improved since then.

“But over the last 40 years, we’ve passed the Older Americans Act, we’ve passed Medicaid as part of Social Security, we’ve passed Medicare as part of Social Security, and we’ve beefed up the Social Security Act to the point that the poverty rate now in the senior population is less than 10 percent, actually, it’s 6 or 7 percent. Medicare is probably the best program of its type, we complain about it a lot, but it’s probably the best medical program of its kind in the world. Medicaid pays for nursing home care, helps to keep people from being impoverished. The quality of care in nursing homes is probably the best it’s ever been, not necessarily where we want to be, but the best it’s ever been. And we have this whole array of home community-based services.”

About 94 percent of Florida Department of Elder Affairs programs are privatized, Beach said. The fastest growing population segment in the state is people 85 years and older. Beach said that means that senior issues should be a greater concern.

The city of Tampa and Hillsborough County are two of the many jurisdictions around the state that are part of Communities for a Lifetime.

Community Relations Manager Janine Rogers-Harris spoke about the benefits of being such a community. “Well, for one, we’ll all have the opportunity to age in place and to remain independent within our communities. By increasing the coordination of different things within the community our community planning, our transportation, and our housing, it gives us the opportunity to maximize our funding to maximize our resources. If seniors have better social, intellectual and physical activities, it improves their physical and their mental health and in addition our children will have an opportunity to grow and prosper.”

One local project supported by the Communities for a Lifetime program is a community garden in Wimauma. Another is the country’s first “senior zone” meant to slow traffic. It’s on Fletcher Avenue adjacent to an assisted living facility and the University of South Florida and cost about $25,000 to $35,000.

To find out about resources available for seniors, call the elder helpline at 1-800-963-5337.

Photo by Seán Kinane/WMNF

Communities for a Lifetime

Florida Department of Elder Affairs

AARP

West Central Florida Area Agency on Aging

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