Seniors & Aging

Bellingham at Home program would help seniors age in place

It’s blessing and a challenge. People are living longer, healthier lives, and many want to grow old in their home, at least 90 percent, according to a recent local survey. Yet many seniors, especially ones without friends or grown children nearby, need extra help if they are going to stay in their homes as long as they wish.

One approach to help such seniors are grass-root, membership groups that create a local resource bank to help seniors age in place. A local planning committee is working to create such a group, called “Bellingham at Home,” modeled on successful, so-called “village” programs across the country.

The local committee arose after an annual seminar on senior housing options held at Bellingham Senior Activity Center. Village programs typically offer seniors information about vetted volunteers and professionals who can help with home repair, personal care, shopping, yard work, health care, and other services that seniors need to stay at home instead of move into a facility.

“Bellingham consistently makes national lists of best places to retire,” says Mary Carlson, executive director of the Whatcom County Council on Aging, the umbrella organization for Bellingham at Home. “We have a large number of people who want to live here, retire here, and remain in their homes.”

“Many of us have no children, or children spread across the country,” Carlson says. “Sometimes you want someone to go to the doctor appointment with you. Depression is common among seniors. You may just need a friendly visitor.”

Jon Shaughnessy became interested in the village idea after he broke his ankle at age 64.

“You don’t have to be real old to have diminished abilities,” says Shaughnessy, who served on the initial local organizing committee. “There are now more than 150 ‘villages’ in the U.S., Australia and the Netherlands, with over a 120 in development. It’s an idea whose time has come.”

Richard Abbott, a current committee member, agrees.

“People need access to services to stay in their homes,” Abbott says. “We’ve found that most will be willing to pay an annual fee to participate in Bellingham at Home. We project (annual) membership cost at somewhere between $300 and $800. As an organization we have a self-supporting goal, but it will require grants and sponsor seed money to kick it off. Once in place, the services offered by Bellingham at Home will be priceless to those who need them.”

In addition to initial funding, the committee is seeking volunteer help to get Bellingham at Home up and running by 2016.

“We need help with public relations, organizational functions, membership, volunteer coordination, and even office workers,” Abbott says. “We are working to attract people highly dedicated and educated in elder care, although everyone has a skill they can offer.”

“Baby boomers are at a great age to help,” Carlson says. “Many realize that they will be soon be in that situation themselves. They are keenly aware of their own parents’ needs and their own aging.”

Abbott, the committee member, moved to Bellingham from Washington, D.C., four years ago to be near his children.

“I plan to stay in my home forever,” he says, “and with services like these, I just might be able to.”

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