Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 16, 2013

Senior Focus: Keep seniors safe, independent

Local columnist

— As individuals grow older, a significant concern is having to leave their homes to live elsewhere. In the past, the commonly accepted view was when a senior started showing signs of dependency or weakness, the family would immediately consider moving them into a care facility like a nursing home.

That would mean leaving behind comfortable surroundings, a familiar community and many memories. As a result, staying independent in their own homes has become the choice of the majority of capable seniors.

A certain amount of control over their lives is lost when individuals leave their homes. The self-assurance of having control provides the foundation to their feelings of dignity, quality of life and independence. Remaining in one’s home adds a strong element to their sense of security and self worth.

That yearning, coupled with a widespread dread of going to a nursing home, has led to a nationwide surge in programs aimed at helping people stay in their homes and neighborhoods longer.

One of these, a program called Keeping Independent Seniors Safe (K.I.S.S), is starting in our own community. A joint project with the RSVP Lead with Experience Program, which is a United Way of Northwest Michigan service, and Grand Traverse County Senior Center Network, the mission of K.I.S.S. is to help make older adults feel safer and more secure living in their own homes by having contact with someone.

“We try to accommodate and support those people who want to stay in their own homes as long as possible,” says Kate Kerr, RSVP and office coordinator for United Way. “The K.I.S.S. program is a way to help those seniors who want to age gracefully and not necessarily have to find alternative care. K.I.S.S. essentially exists to provide a reassurance call for seniors who are homebound and may not have a lot of friends or family around.”

One of the Senior Center Network’s goals is to offer community-based services to maintain and improve the quality of life for seniors. The K.I.S.S. program supports this goal and the partnership with RSVP was created by a mutual drive to help seniors who want to remain independent and safe in their homes.

In the event that something should happen to a participant, such as a fall, stroke or heart attack, they have the security of knowing that they will be found. Volunteers will talk with K.I.S.S. clients each Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 8:30 a.m. and noon.

“We’re hoping by March 1, we can be working with the clients and volunteers to make those calls happen,” Kerr says. “By contacting clients three times a week, we’re making sure they are OK, they are safe and are comfortable.

“If we are not able to get a hold of them, we do have a step-by-step process we can take. If the volunteer cannot reach the client during the time they agreed to communicate with each other, we would then try to reach the client’s emergency contacts and ask them to check on the person…If that emergency contact isn’t available to reach the client, then we do a wellness check with the local sheriff’s department.”

This is a pilot program — initiated just in Grand Traverse County — for now.

“What we hope to find — are three days a week sufficient for calls — Monday, Wednesday, Friday? What works best for the clients and for the volunteers? How can this program be more beneficial before we expand?” Kerr says. “Essentially, we want to be able to provide our clients with a service that they are not getting somewhere else, helping them feel safer and more connected in their own homes.”

Although seniors value their ability to live independently, without a plan for aging in place, it can be increasingly hard for seniors to stay in control of their options. K.I.S.S. gives them a choice — freedom to express self-reliance and the ability to live an independent lifestyle with the assurance they are protected if something unforeseen should happen.

Stephen Covey, an American educator, author and keynote speaker, might say it best, “Every human has four endowments — self awareness, conscience, independent will and creative imagination. These give us the ultimate human freedom … the power to choose, to respond, to change.

Anyone who is interested in being a client or a volunteer can contact the United Way’s RSVP program at 947-3200 and ask for Kate Kerr or Susan McQuaid. They can register individuals, answer any questions or send out information. The Senior Center Network can also be reached at 922-4911 to register or obtain information.