Published January 25, 2017
There’s no place like home.
Aging in place — staying in one’s home while getting older — allows seniors to continue to be independent, minimize change and often maintain a lower cost of living, among other benefits.
“Independent living promotes successful aging in a number of ways,” says Susan Udin, professor of physiology and biophysics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “And for people to age in place, it is important that their communities be livable.”
Udin, who joined the UB faculty as an assistant professor in 1979, has been working toward that goal in Buffalo’s Parkside neighborhood for nearly a decade. Udin and her husband, David, have been Parkside residents for 36 years. She has been a member of the Parkside Community Association (PCA) since 1981.
“I always admired the PCA — what they do and what they stand for,” Udin says. “When I became a board member in 2008, I knew that you are expected to take on a major role in one — or more — of the committees.”
Udin says she wanted to find a way to provide assistance to Parkside’s older residents, as well as those who are disabled, to enable them to continue living in their homes as long as they are able.
“Parkside is a caring neighborhood,” she explains. “We have many longtime residents — and we are always happy to welcome new neighbors — but we want to make sure that our seniors and those who might live with a disability can remain a part of our community as they age.”
In “Aging in Place,” a 2014 survey of livability policies and practices, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported that 87 percent of adults aged 65 or older wanted to stay in their current homes.
AARP also noted that the number of adults 65 and older will nearly double in the next 20 years: “Many will continue to live in the community ... however the degree to which they can participate in community life will be determined, in part, by their physical environment and the level of available services.”
“There is a good bit of national research that points to a large majority of older adults who would prefer to do this,” Udin says. “I had gotten very interested in the issue seeing my parents age. The possibility of having to leave their home as they grow older is a significant concern for many seniors.
“It was for this reason that I worked together with another board member, the late Ruth Lampe, to create a new committee on aging in place. We want to help our Parkside seniors and neighbors with disabilities to live at home for as long as possible.”
Udin and members of her committee went to work to determine what could be done to launch aging in place initiatives in Parkside, and were able to obtain grant funding. One of the first things they set up was a driver program, called North Buffalo Neighbors.
“It has been going for five or six years now and has proved to be very popular,” Udin says. “We have association volunteers who provide low-cost transportation — rides — for all sorts of errands.
“Often, many of our seniors need assistance to get to and from doctor’s appointments or to pick up prescriptions and other medications. Sometime they need a lift to the airport. Transportation options are one of the keys to remaining in your own home as you age.”
“This is something that we have a real need for, not only in Parkside, but in communities throughout Western New York and across the country,” says Amber Small, Parkside Community Association executive director. “And Susan and her committee members are so committed to this program.”
Small says Parkside is a tight-knit neighborhood, but that a segment of the community is almost forced to leave their homes once their mobility is challenged. “We want to prevent people from aging out of their homes,” she says.
In addition to Parkside, PCA’s North Buffalo Neighbors program covers neighborhoods north to Kenmore Avenue.
Udin’s committee also has begun offering neighborhood snow removal for seniors and residents with disabilities.
“Last year was the pilot program for the ‘Snow Angels’ program,” Udin says. “We went around the neighborhood asking who might be interested in receiving some assistance with snow removal.”
The committee received a number of positive responses and worked out a plan to match volunteers with the homes of those who requested assistance.
“And we are back this year with more homes, more volunteers and maybe more snow,” Udin says. “Seven houses have requested assistance and 16 volunteers are helping out. We have pairs of people for each home, and we also provide ice melt. The program is entirely free to residents.
“We will also be checking with other services, such as Meals on Wheels,” she adds, “to see if there are any additional homes and residents in the neighborhood that do need some help in clearing snow, but perhaps we missed reaching them last year.”
Udin thinks the Snow Angels will grow from year to year, and says the PCA will reach out not just at the start of snow season, but during the course of the winter as well. She notes the program has received donations, “and we never say no to that.”
Udin says the PCA Aging in Place committee also has initiated other programs focused on neighborhood’s senior population, including public forums on legal issues such as living wills, as well as a smoke and carbon monoxide detector installation day — that the group plans to repeat this spring.
In addition, she says committee members are discussing possibly starting a program to install handrails inside the homes of seniors and residents with disabilities.
“Programs such as aging in place — which are universal, really — are becoming a way to provide support to seniors and others who are in need of assistance,” says Small, “so they can remain in the homes they know and love.
“We feel it is working for our neighborhood and we are happy to be a model for other communities.”