Greater MetroWest CARES (Committee Addressing Resources to Engage Seniors) is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. Throughout the year, Greater MetroWest agencies have the opportunity to address critical eldercare issues in this column. This month’s article on planning for the needs of an agency’s aging clients is presented by JESPY House, a program for adults with learning and developmental disabilities.
How does an agency serving individuals of a variety of ages prepare for its clients’ aging? At JESPY, a program for adults with learning and developmental disabilities, we started to ask this question 20 years ago when our oldest clients were in their early 40s. We thought about what changes we would need to make in our programming to accommodate their aging. We called in “experts” to give us guidance as to how our program would need to be “different.” Some of what we realized surprised us.
We thought about our recreation program first. We reviewed our team sports. We offer basketball, hockey, softball, track and field, tennis, and soccer. What would we need to offer the older clients in place of sports? What other activities would we need to develop to appeal to them and offer recreational opportunities? As it turns out, we did not have to make any alterations yet. Our sports teams are filled with clients 45-60 years of age. Except for some medical reasons, not many have left JESPY athletics behind. They are significant contributors to the success of the JESPY athletics. They also participate in the Special Olympics tournaments and come home proudly wearing gold, silver, and bronze medals.
Some programs may be developed that are appropriate for clients of a variety of ages. In recent years, we have added a fitness room and trainers to our program and half of the participants are our older clients. We have also added nutrition and cooking groups over the years. They are open to everyone and again half of the attendees are our older clients. Good health is a goal for everyone.
Of course, changes to physical surroundings may be necessary as clients age. At JESPY, for example, as we have added new buildings to our program, we kept the older client in mind and we have included an elevator and a ramp.
Not surprisingly, there is one area in which we have had to make significant changes. In the past, our clients simply needed a yearly physical, dental exam, and a TB test mandated by the state. Now, we are also addressing the need for glasses for our over-40s and mammograms for our over-50s. We have nearly 40 clients who have diabetes or are pre-diabetic, necessitating more doctors’ appointments. Everyone is getting flu shots.
Similarly, clients with special needs — just as other aging individuals — may require emotional support as they cope with issues related to their aging parents and grandparents. Individual therapy and groups can help them understand this often hard part of the life cycle.