Cartwrites: Eldercare

Posted Wednesday, March 28, 2012 in Features

Cartwrites: Eldercare

Andrea Handel and Edith Hagar

by Steve Cartwright

DAMARISCOTTA -- You know you’re aging when your back goes out more than you do. That is just one of many quips, both funny and sad, about the reality of growing old.

Not so funny is the plight of many elders unable to get out, to socialize, exercise and enjoy a quality life. Some senior citizens have networks of family and friends, and adequate funds to pay for housing and medical care. Others do not. Many older people find themselves home alone, isolated and perhaps alienated. Many older people have fixed incomes that severely limit their options for going anywhere or improving their situation.

Enter ElderCare Network of Lincoln County, a seven-site program creating a warm, stimulating environment for scores of older residents. ElderCare also reaches out to others through daytime respite care. And this nonprofit group is exploring electronic monitoring that can allow people to stay in their own homes with a lifeline to assistance, should a need arise.

In home-like settings in seven Lincoln County communities, groups of six to eight residents share meals, board games, puzzles, art classes and their stories, past and present. First conceived by local citizens in 1995, the organization opened its first residence 1998, in a 19th century house on Hodgdon Street in Damariscotta, a short stroll from downtown stores, library, post office, coffee shop.

At Hodgdon Green, Eldercare executive director Andrea Handel said the network of homes provides an affordable, safe and comfortable environment for residents. A founder of Eldercare, Handel said she envisions the homes becoming more and more a place that Lincoln County’s aging residents can come to, whether to visit awhile or to live for the rest of their lives. “These little village care facilities are going to be little community centers,” she said.

Handel was Lincoln County Eldercare’s first director in 1998; she left to earn a master’s degree in theater education from Emerson College, and has just returned to her old job. Besides acting in community theater, Handel said her educational background helps her understand and appreciate older people and their needs.

Seniors “have a lot to offer, and we look for ways to get them involved,” she said. An example of that is one resident “who had never painted, but sat in on one of Carol Teel’s art classes and fell in love with painting. She ended up making note cards, and having a real sense of purpose, of meaning.

In the decade since Hodgdon Green opened, Eldercare has established Wiscasset Green, Boothbay Green, Waldoboro Green, Jefferson Green, Edgecomb Green and Round Pond Green in Bristol. All of them are deliberately located within the village so that local activities and services are easily accessible.

Edith Beryle Hagar, a resident of Hodgdon Green, said the facility suits her well: “I have everything I need, and I don’t have to worry.”

Applicants for residency don’t have to fret over cost. Financial help is usually available through the state’s MaineCare program, and banks, state and federal agencies and charitable organizations subsidize many ElderCare expenses.

Beth McPherson of Damariscotta, an ElderCare founder along with local physician Dr. Chip Teel, said she and others were concerned that “there was no place for people who had limited means; there were only the private-pay places. We were very conscious that people who had only Social Security were leaving the county and going to places like Augusta,” away from family, friends, community.

“Greater than that was the sense that Dr. Teel and I had that these facilities were really not home-like. We thought that people could be in a small home, with things like a piano. Our homes are as close to the center of the village as possible, so that family members and friends can stop by on the way to the store,” McPherson said.  

Aging is inevitable, but how we feel about it, how we cope with it, is not. Old people are simply young people who have been around a long time. We are the same person, with experience, with skills and frailties, needs and wants. I saw a T-shirt worn by an elder that simply said, Old is Beautiful. It can be. It’s up to all of us.

For more information visit: www.eldercarenetwork.org/

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Chip Teel: Aging in place


by Steve Cartwright

Chip Teel is a physician and a pioneer in an old area.

He is exploring new and better ways to car for elders; ways that are more nurturing and less expensive, simpler yet relying on the latest technology.

This affable, unpretentious doctor is on a mission: “The holy grail was how to keep people in their homes,” he said. And now, with real-time video cameras and the internet, he is achieving his goal in a what he calls the Maine Approach...something he hopes will catch on nationwide through his new organization, Full Circle America.

His own father is a guinea pig for the system, where at any given moment, Dr. Teel can check on dad. His father has full knowledge of, and has agreed to the plan. The cameras are placed discreetly in kitchen or living room, not with the intention of spying but simply to check if he and his home are safe.

A physically disabled Gardiner man currently monitors dozens of elders who have chosen to stay in their own homes, even if they are often alone. Another aspect of the Maine Approach seeks to connect elders in their homes with family and friends, through both in-person visits and internet interaction.

A founder of ElderCare Network of Lincoln County, Teel, 61, has practiced medicine in the Damariscotta area for a quarter century, often treating an aged population of retirees in various assisted-living situations.

“The current model of elder care is unsustainable,” Teel said. Under his “stay at home” approach, the cost of care is $400 per month, while a nursing home can cost many thousands of dollars per month.

If Teel can convince the rest of the country to sign on to his concept, savings could be billions, possibly trillions of dollars. Beyond money, there is the quality of life. Do older people want to be shielded from experiencing life fully, even if at some risk to their often frail selves?

The answer, Teel says, is an emphatic yes. He said an elder would rather go boating and risk falling overboard than stay ashore in a chair, watching. And why not, he asks. What’s to lose when you’re nearing the end of life anyway? He said that there is dignity in letting elders make their own choices, even if at some risk to themselves. 

It’s not “if” we get old, it’s when. Teel is acutely aware of the graying of American, where within the next decade a quarter of the population will be over 65. So-called baby boomers are hitting retirement age in force.

A Massachusetts native, Teel attended Dartmouth College, then moved to Rangeley, Maine with his two brothers to get back to the land and try farming. He met a local woman, Carol, and married her. He graduated in 1985 from the University of Vermont’s medical school and interned at a hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

Like any good doctor, Teel wants his patients, and all elders, to live healthier, happier lives. He thinks he has found a way to help make that happen.

For more information visit: http://fullcircleamerica.wordpress.com/

If you know of a neighbor, friend, or family member who needs help staying at  home call Full Circle America at 1-888-873-8817.

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