Smart Investment: Senior Programs

The Valley offers multiple support programs for older residents.

Studies show that programs for seniors can help prevent health problems: Social and physical activities prevent depression. Exercise programs prevent falls and keep seniors physically strong enough to age in their homes instead of a costly nursing home. It's in everyone's interest—the senior, their family and society—to keep seniors living independently at home for as long as possible.

"The number one thing people say they want when they get older is to remain in their homes, and we want to accommodate people's wishes," says Beverly Kidder, director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center at the Agency on Aging of South Central Connecticut.

"Also, it's an economic issue," says Kidder. "If people are not living independently at home they're living elsewhere and someone else is taking care of them. The cost is astronomical."
Connecticut taxpayers spend more than $2 billion (13% of the state's budget) annually on long-term care supports and services for the elderly through Medicaid, according to the state Commission on Aging. Much of that $2 billion supports the roughly 26,000 elderly living in nursing homes, says State Senator Kevin Kelly (R-Shelton, Seymour).

"If we don't change the way we do things that $2 billion could triple in the next 15 years," because of the aging baby boomers, says Sen. Kelly. One way to curb costs is by supporting programs that keep seniors healthy enough to age in place. In the Valley there are programs that help healthy seniors stay healthy and others that help homebound seniors stay home.

The town-supported Senior Centers offer exercise classes to help seniors maintain balance (to prevent falls) and other programs to keep their minds active, such as games, computer classes and creative outlets. The centers also offer information sessions on topics like elder law, driver safety and how to maintain your vision.

Going to the Derby Senior Center improved Linda Joyce's physical and emotional health. After 12 years of living in Derby she hadn't made a single friend due to crippling social anxiety. Joyce reluctantly joined the center's crochet group, which she now leads. Before, Joyce says, she could feel her muscles deteriorating from inactivity. Now, she does aerobics three times a week and regularly attends Senior Center events.

"I still have arthritis, but I don't worry about ending up in a wheelchair anytime soon," she says.

While Senior Centers are helping mobile seniors stay active, other area organizations are addressing the needs of homebound seniors. TEAM Inc. delivers hot lunches to seniors through Meals on Wheels; offers rides to medical appointments and grocery stores; and provides housework and yardwork through their Homemaker program. TEAM's Homemakers and Meals on Wheels drivers may be the only person a senior sees all week, says TEAM Inc., Vice President and VCF Board member Diane Stroman.

Social contact is critical for the elderly: it helps ward off depression and keep minds sharp. The Valley Parish Nurse program at Griffin Hospital provides referral services, education and screenings to help keep seniors at home safely. Some seniors will need long-term medical care, but it may not need to be provided by a nursing home. Home- and community-based services are cheaper than institutional care, according to the Commission on Aging.

"We need to make sure services are available in the home," says State Sen. Joseph Crisco (D-Ansonia, Derby). "Not only is there a costbenefit to the state, but it also prevents pain and suffering." Both Senators Crisco and Kelly run free, annual fairs for seniors in Ansonia and Shelton, respectively,that offer important health and safety information.

"Our objective is to get more information to seniors and their families to help them have a better quality of life and to avoid costly medical care," says Sen. Crisco.

What You Can Do:

Advocate for things that help seniors, such as a more robust public transportation system or zoning regulations to allow in-law apartments

Support programs that help seniors - visit to search for nonprofits that provide services to seniors

Help elderly neighbors with house or yardwork

Stay mentally and physically active yourself!