Pilot Program Helps Seniors Maintain Independence

By Michael Waddell

The MetLife Foundation and Partners for Livable Communities recently selected the Plough Foundation and Memphis to participate in the City Leaders Institute on Aging in Place, a national pilot project striving to help people aged 65 years and older to live independently in their homes.

Memphis is one of 10 cities that will work with national leaders to implement new ways to improve the lives of seniors that remain at home as they age.

“The trend is aging in place,” said Katie Midgley, Plough Foundation program associate. “Nursing home placement is down. People want to stay in their homes, but our existing housing stock really isn’t where it needs to be.”

The project will officially launch in Washington later this month. Other participating communities include Alexandria, Va.; Asheville, N.C.; Chicago; Kansas City, Mo.; Louisville, Ky.; Oklahoma City; San Diego; and Salt Lake City.

The Memphis team includes reps from the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, the Plough Foundation, the Tennessee Housing Development Agency, the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis and Shelby County government.

The Plough Foundation commissioned a telephone survey of older adults in the community asking them how elder-friendly their communities are.

"Our goals align perfectly with the work of the project, seeking to assist vulnerable adults in living safely in their own homes."

–Kathryn Coulter
Chief development officer, Aging Commission of the Mid-South

“A couple of things that came out of that were the need for accessibility and home repair modifications for people across income levels,” Midgley said.

Many homes built years ago do not have wheelchair accessible ramps outside, wider doorways and restrooms, or grab rails inside to help the disabled.

New housing developments could reap future savings by featuring home-based mobility options for seniors.

“Housing and Community Development is currently taking a leadership role in the discussion of accessibility issues, primarily connected to the zoning codes for new housing developments,” said HCD Director Robert Lipscomb. “We recognize that there are real savings that Memphis can expect to enjoy by investing in home-based mobility.”

According to Emily Trenholm with the Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, community development corporations that do home repair for seniors report that roof repairs and heat/air improvements are the greatest needs, while mobility concerns (need for ramps, grab bars, etc.,) are also a big priority.

“Senior homeowners often find themselves in a position where they can’t afford needed repairs and maintenance,” said Trenholm, who points out that another big concern to seniors is safety, both security and crime-related safety, as well as personal safety in terms of avoiding falls and other accidents.

Kathryn Coulter, chief development officer with the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, emphasizes that many older residents benefit from programs such as home-delivered meals, homemaker assistance, personal care assistance and other services to assist them in remaining in their communities.

The mission of the Aging Commission of the Mid-South is to advocate for and assist older adults and adults with disabilities in leading independent, meaningful and dignified lives in their own homes and communities as long as possible.

“Our goals align perfectly with the work of the project, seeking to assist vulnerable adults in living safely in their own homes,” Coulter said. “Practically speaking, these modifications will result in improved access to the home and improved safety within the home.”

The Community Development Council is a membership organization of nonprofits and others that are working to revitalize and stabilize Memphis neighborhoods.

“We were invited by Plough to be part of the initiative in large part because of our relationships with community development corporations,” Trenholm said. “Our member organizations are on the ground in the neighborhoods, working with the residents, which gives them special insight and relationships.”

Trenholm hopes the project results in greater awareness of the challenges seniors face in remaining in their homes and neighborhoods as they age, and more programs and resources targeted at helping them do so.

“It is always gratifying when Memphis is selected for this kind of national initiative,” Trenholm said. “By selecting our city, the national partners clearly think that through our pilot we have a chance to really move the needle on an important issue in our community.”

She believes the community is gaining more visibility on livability issues, as evidenced by the selection of Shelby County to receive a federal Sustainable Communities grant.

Next the Memphis team will travel to Washington March 21 to speak with expert consultants and begin developing new ideas, such as the possibility of bringing in local community colleges that do construction work to help with home repair and renovation projects.

“By the end of this year, we hope we will be provided with an opportunity fund to really help implement the strategies we come up with during the year,” Midgley said.