This story was originally published in Winston-Salem Monthly on October 31, 2015.
By Lynn Crothers
It’s mid-morning when I first visit Senior Services’ Winston-Salem office on Shorefair Drive, and I’m not alone.
In the back of the building, volunteers of all ages are streaming in quietly, smiling. They’re here to pick up hot meals and groceries for delivery to homebound seniors.
Since 1962, Forsyth County’s Meals-on-Wheels service has been providing hot and frozen meals and groceries to elderly adults in the community. It remains the oldest Meals-on-Wheels program in the Southeast and the third oldest in the nation, and it’s by far the most well-known of Senior Services’ programs.
But it’s certainly not the only one.
Operating for more than 50 years, Senior Services aims to provide vulnerable older adults with affordable and accessible options for receiving care and support in their homes, as well as services, education, and support for caregivers. This kind of care is needed now more than ever, as our society becomes collectively older.
The “graying population” is a phrase thrown around often in the media, yet it remains a reality. According to Senior Services’ website, Forsyth County’s senior population is projected to increase by 100 percent between 2000 and 2030.
On a global scale, according to a recent analysis on aging from Standard & Poor’s Financial Services, “no other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances, and policymaking as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.”
As we continue to live longer, all of us will at some point be confronted with questions about long-term care. Yet at a time when both the use and cost of assisted living and nursing facilities is on the rise, a cherished alternative exists: the ability to remain at home.
“For many older adults, nursing facilities are a necessity, but for some they’re not,” says Richard Gottlieb, president and CEO of Senior Services. “Home is a comfortable place of memories and routines, and our [primary] goal is to help seniors stay there for as long as possible, maintaining purpose and independence.”
Growing older is a terrain we all try our best to navigate, but our nation lacks the kind of care and support needed to help older adults age with dignity and choice, according to Gottlieb..
The reality of aging is that it affects us all. The motto of Senior Services is that, with aging, it’s possible to maintain our dignity, even our delight. The nonprofit focuses on seven community-based care programs, ranging from at-home services to day-care supervision to resources for caregivers. We’ll take a closer look at each of these seven programs below, all of which are adapted to fit the needs of local seniors.
Many of us—7 out of 10 Americans—will or do need long-term care, and our greatest worry is how this will impact others. In a study by Genworth Financial, more than half of all respondents (55 percent) reported that their greatest fear is not illness but becoming a burden on family. Two programs at Senior Services seek to lighten this burden by allowing older adults to remain at home affordably and with assistance.
Living-at-Home is a program providing case management through the Community Alternatives Program for Disabled Adults (CAP/DA or CAP/Choice). These Medicaid waiver programs provide a coordinated network of support services at home—from in-home aide and adult day center care to mobility aids and nutritional supplies—allowing aged or disabled adults to remain at home for as long as possible or to return home from a facility when possible.
Similarly, Home Care, a program that began in 1978, employs certified nursing assistants, registered nurses, and other health-care professionals to assist frail older adults at home. Certified in-home aides assist with meal preparation, grocery and pharmacy errands, and housekeeping, providing primary caregivers temporary relief from the stresses of caregiving.
Williams Adult Day Center
Tucked away on the outskirts of Ardmore is the Elizabeth and Tab Williams Adult Day Center, which provides a safe, stimulating, and caring environment for adults who need daily supervision and assistance. Specializing in Alzheimer’s and dementia care, the 15-year-old center also welcomes clients who are simply homebound and could benefit from socializing. In 2010, it was named the nation’s top adult day center by the National Day Services Association, largely because of its creative programming.
Stationed at 231 Melrose St., the center offers clients multiple opportunities for learning, activity, and healing, including its innovative Music and Memory program. The program holds that music, when used appropriately, can spark compelling and life-changing outcomes in individuals with Alzheimer’s and related dementias. Certain songs can tap into powerful memories and emotions otherwise difficult to access. Music has helped many at the Day Center to control and elevate their moods, and it’s even prompted some to speak for the first time after long periods of silence.
Other on-site services include dentistry, physician, podiatrist, baths, barber/beautician, and support groups. The cost of the Day Center is $50 per day with an additional charge of $7 for extended day service. Financial assistance is available for those with limited resources, and no one is ever refused service because of lack of funds.
Senior Lunch Program
Senior Services operates four Senior Lunch sites throughout Forsyth County: three in Winston-Salem and one in Kernersville. The program provides nutritious hot meals by a local caterer and engaging activities for seniors in a group setting.
At each site, adults take part in arts and crafts and tutorials, play games, exercise, and sing. Though the program technically begins at 11 a.m. each day, “many are so excited to be there they come early,” says Kevin Douthit, manager of the Kernersville site.
Health screenings and guest speakers are also an integral part of the program, providing attendees with educational info on health, nutrition, and home and personal safety. But socialization is the real key. In 2008, a Harvard School of Public Health study found evidence that elderly people in the U.S. who have an active social life may have a slower rate of memory decline.
“Activities and socializing are good for them—good for all of us,” adds Douthit, a pianist who also works at the Williams Adult Day Center. “They’ll tell you themselves that they hate those four walls. Here, we make sure they get seen.”
Caring for Caregivers
Do you provide frequent or continuous care to someone who is older or disabled? Do you take meals daily to a person who is shut-in? Check on anyone regularly? Provide transportation for an elder? Then you’re one of many caregivers in Forsyth County, and Senior Services is dedicated to making your life more manageable, too.
Elder Care Choices (ECC) was developed in 1995 in response to a growing demand within the local business community for a program to help employees manage work. It’s now a part of many local companies’ employee benefits packages. The program is essentially a telephone-based consultation and referral service for employees of contracting companies, such as Wake Forest University and R.J. Reynolds. Sandra Rinaldi, aging resource specialist, helps employees every week with questions pertaining to Medicare, out-of-state help, and assisted living. A social services worker serving older adults for the past 15 years, she says that “being able to break down these important questions into manageable steps for local employees has really been rewarding.”
Similarly, Senior Service’s Help Line provides information on local aging and care resources, including in-home service, housing, community resources, and long-term planning. The organization also hosts and encourages caregivers to attend support groups in and around Forsyth County on issues ranging from family caregiving to Alzheimer’s, stroke, and Parkinson’s care. To find a caregiver support group in the area, call the Help Line at 336-724-2040.
Connection and a Hot Meal
Since its inception in 1962, Meals-on-Wheels of Forsyth County has delivered more than 5 million meals to homebound seniors. Provided by a local caterer, these deliveries offer more than just a nutritious meal: they are a chance for connection and socialization, and an opportunity to simply “check in” on the elderly.
“When I first signed up through my church, I thought, ‘This will be a great way to help my community,’” says Nancy Sullivan, who volunteers monthly with a friend. “Really though, the program benefits me just as much. It’s all about the friendships.”
Jack Stack, a Meals-on-Wheels volunteer for nearly 25 years, agrees. “Whether it’s offering a simple smile or a ‘hello,’ this is a needed program,” he says. “You are witness to the struggles others go through, and I think this is something we all need.”
The cost is $5 per meal, though financial assistance is available for those who can’t pay for meals. Seniors are typically referred to the program by Social Services, doctors, friends, or the prospective client themselves. Any homebound Forsyth County resident over the age of 60 is eligible for the service. To make a referral, simply call Senior Services at 336-725-0907.
Chesley Hyatt, referred to Senior Services by his doctor, has Parkinson’s. It affects his eyesight, his hearing. When he talks about the Meals-on-Wheels deliveries he receives daily, his voice lightens. “I’ll tell you what, it’s great—and the people are so interesting,” he says. “Some of them have problems themselves. We’re all just trying to cope and lift each other up.”
And that, in a nutshell, is what Senior Services is all about. The aim isn’t just to provide seniors with the basic necessities; it’s about enriching their lives and “meeting them where they’re at,” says Kathy Long, a nurse at Williams Adult Day Center.
“When it comes to aging, we need to move beyond traditional ways of thinking. There are two things I can tell you people never forget: They never forget how to problem solve, and they never forget what it feels like to be loved, to be touched with love.”