Staff in subacute care at the Keswick Multi-Care Center weren’t sure if an older woman was going to recover after she was sent to them from a local hospital.
Two years later, that same woman was able to move from long-term care into her own apartment. After another year, she is now a regular visiting Keswick Community Health programs every day, taking classes, making art and even participating in a walking club.
She was in a scooter, wheelchair, then a walker. The last time Keswick Community Health Executive Director Aileen Tinney saw her she was walking with just a cane.
It’s these reversals of traditional stereotypes of decline that Baltimore-region community organizations are bringing about as they confront a rapidly growing older adult population, enlightened by new research on what it means to age well.
“She has strong relationships here at Keswick, so even though she moved to her own apartment, she had a sense of purpose, she had connectedness here and in this community,” Tinney said about the woman who visits campus almost every day. “She had that reason to get up every day, and she’s moving.”
Keswick guided her and gave her help identifying and marshaling the support she needed. And recent rebalancing of Medicaid dollars meant there were ways to pay for both medical and nonmedical supports required to return home, Tinney said.
Leaders at Keswick and around Baltimore are trying to break the framework of thinking that older adults get sick, become a burden, use healthcare resources and eventually die. They also want to help people stay in their own homes longer.
“That narrative really needs to change, when you have a quarter of your population that’s over the age of 60, they have to be seen as an asset for society,” said Carmel Roques, president and CEO of Keswick. “And one of the ways you achieve having that happen is finding ways to really help individuals and populations collectively be healthier, physically healthier, be more in charge of that for themselves.”
Many of those keys to success are nonmedical, which is why Keswick Community Health provides programs to transition patients out of subacute care and a Wise and Well program that helps people prevent disease and manage chronic conditions and engage in the community, Roques said. She often gives the advice: have a purpose, stay connected, keep moving, and don’t fall.
That last piece is particularly timely in Baltimore as the Baltimore City Health Department has set a community-wide goal to reduce the number of falls for older adults by 20 percent over the next 10 years.
Last year, the department estimates that nearly 5,000 older adults visited the emergency department due to a fall, more than 20 percent higher than the statewide average. Each fall has an average cost of $39,000, for a total of $60 million annually.
City Health Commissioner Dr. Leana Wen said as an ER physician she has treated many patients, such as those on blood thinners, who have died as a result of a fall. But she’s also seen other consequences, like someone who goes from living independently or even caring for others to suddenly needing skilled nursing care.
“There is a social cost of falls and is something that can result in depression, social isolation and really changing the entire dynamic of that person’s life and their connections with their family and their community,” Wen said.
The community-wide strategy is intended to focus partners on fall prevention. Already, the health department has set up a system that is connected to local ERs in real time and allows it to map out where falls are occurring, identify hot spots and target interventions.
For instance, one hot spot of falls is Hampden, where Keswick and a local coalition are targeting interventions and offering educational programs like balance and strength training, medication management and screenings for footwear safety.
Some programs will include home repairs or adjustments to eliminate environmental risk factors for falls. The city has dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of partner organizations working to prevent falls, Wen said.
“It’s a health issue, but it’s also about the well-being and the quality of this person’s life,” she said.
Staying in their own home
The quality of life is a key that Baltimore-area nonprofits are focusing on as they look for ways to serve older adults living at home.
A key for seniors being able to remain in their home is managing their costs. That’s especially true when it comes to the cost of medications many seniors are prescribed. But there are ways to fight those costs.
“Seniors or their families who experience difficulty affording their medications should consult with a pharmacist,” Ellen Yankellow, President and CEO of Correct Rx said. “The specialized training that pharmacists receive allow us to easily identify medications that seniors can use that produce the same health outcomes but are more cost-effective based on their individual insurance plan or budget.”
For instance, the Sykesville-based Copper Ridge community is one location where nonprofit Integrace provides nationally recognized neurocognitive support for those living with Alzheimer’s, dementia and many other forms of cognitive change.
Integrace hosts a monthly social club at Copper Ridge for people living with early onset dementia, and everyone who attends lives at home. Integrace President and CEO Jackie Harris said the activities like drum circles, gardening, yoga and painting are designed to celebrate rather than focus on what people have lost.
“It’s always fun and inspiring to catch up on all the wonderful and exciting things everyone has done since our last meeting,” Harris said in an email. “Whether it’s traveling or going on cruises, or spending time with their families, these individuals don’t let their diagnoses define them or stop them from doing everything they have always loved to do.”
Integrace oversees three senior living communities as well as neurocognitive support programs at Copper Ridge and the Integrace Institute and neurocognitive clinics in Easton and Sykesville. Harris thinks of aging as a time for learning, growth, change and contribution.
“For us, it’s our sacred mission to empower and inspire people to live in a way that’s most natural to them,” Harris said. “If everyone would look at aging through the lens of abilities instead of disabilities, together, we could transform the current perception of aging.”
|This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Women Who Lead: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Women Who Lead (formerly Path to Excellence) magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Women Who Lead.|