Nancy Tillman (center) and other members of the Redmond Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Health Team
Let’s get real! Aging is a natural part of life. As much as we might want to remain youthful and healthy forever, we must recognize this may not be reality. A great alternative to the Fountain of Youth mentality is to embrace this philosophy: Aging in Place Gracefully!
The body is an amazing well-oiled and well-crafted machine that, when cared for and maintained, allows us to get great mileage; however, even the best maintained machine will eventually wear down and ultimately wear out. This fact can be difficult to face but is a definite reality; otherwise, we would all live forever, right? So far, I don’t know anyone who has been able to accomplish that feat!
Facing life’s realities doesn’t have to be dismal, scary, or burdensome. Sometimes acknowledging what life has in store for us can be the most difficult challenge. Often, facing our fears opens the opportunity for self-exploration that ultimately give us courage. When we meet our current and future needs without blinders, we can develop our best Aging in Place Gracefully plan.
The reality of it all
Most older people the Redmond Fire Department encounters want to remain in their own homes where they feel safe and comfortable and the environment is familiar. Our team fully supports a person’s choice to remain at home for as long as possible if they can function safely and care for themselves.
Fire department staff note one tell-tale sign that someone is declining—an increase in the number of 911 calls that person makes. The Redmond Fire Department monitors 911 calls to determine how well community members are functioning in their home. Calls have proven to be a barometer for determining if someone is struggling and may need assistance.
When the fire department receives multiple calls for lift assistance related to falls, for example, or calls for other non-medical emergencies from the same person, they know something is amiss. Ongoing requests for lift and other non-medical assistance is a sign that a person may not be doing well. We view an increase in 911 calls as a cry for help.
Falls are one of the most common reasons that older people call 911. Mobility challenges are very common among older people. It’s important to address mobility issues as soon as possible, to limit future injury due to falls and to maintain independence. Preserving mobility supports a person’s ability to age gracefully at home, perhaps more than any other functional limitation.
Planning for success and setting goals
To age gracefully at home, it’s important to be proactive and have a plan. Recognizing when things are not going well, addressing issues when they arise, and planning for challenges that may occur in the future can make all the difference. Taking steps to find solutions early on—before a problem has spun so far out of control that it becomes impossible to manage or recover from—is key.
The Redmond Fire Department’s Mobile Integrated Health Program (MIH) was developed to assist community members living in Redmond, Duvall, and Snoqualmie who may be struggling in their homes but may not know where to turn for help. The MIH Team can offer support and connect people to resources and services. The team tries to get involved early on to help that person identify potential concerns and address them. The sooner a problem is addressed, the greater opportunity that person will have to resolve it, stabilize their situation, continue to live independently, and age gracefully at home.
The MIH Team follows up after one or more 911 calls to check on anyone perceived to be struggling. We want to understand that person’s perspective—how they think things are going. We also want to know if the person has a plan or goals for maintaining their independence.
When someone’s health or functionality begins to decline, it can take time for that new reality to sink in. It is not uncommon for a caller to be somewhat out of touch with their situation, so we share our concerns. We follow up early on because we want older people to have the best possible chance at stabilization and remain at home. You may have guessed it—we want everyone to age gracefully!
The long and short of it—accept the support you need
Once a community member starts working with the MIH Team, that person becomes the driving force of the team. The MIH Team can offer service and resource options, but the client is always in charge. A major component of aging gracefully at home is maintaining the capacity to make decisions. We let clients know early on that they make the final decision about what is best for them.
Aging gracefully at home may look one way for one person and look entirely different for someone else. One person can live independently with the aid of a walker or wheelchair and require very little additional support. Another person can be entirely mobile—not using specialized medical equipment—but require a great deal of other support. The bottom line is whether a person can function independently.
Choosing not to utilize needed medical equipment or other supports can lessen one’s chance of remaining independent at home. Keep in mind that evaluation, specialized medical equipment, in-home care services, installation of a chair lift, treatment from a medical provider, physical, occupational and/or speech therapy and other services and supports may be necessary to help you maintain independence at home. There are countless tools and resources available to you if you are open to it. These supports are a means to an end—helping you maintain your independence.
Aging gracefully at home is possible, especially if you are not afraid to reach out and ask for help or to accept assistance when it’s offered. Accepting support should be viewed as a strength, not a weakness. In fact, it may be your best chance to remain at home for the rest of your life.
Contributor Nancy Tillman is an Aging and Disability Services case manager who works with the Redmond Fire Department Mobile Integrated Health Team, which receives referrals from local 911 providers. Anywhere in Seattle-King County, for local resource information and assistance, contact Community Living Connections (toll-free 844-348-5464). Calls are confidential and free of charge.