Communities of Strength- the perfect pandemic theme for Older Americans Month 2021
May is Older Americans Month and now that we have been coping with a pandemic for more than a year, we are especially proud to honor older adults in our communities for their strength. Older adults have built resilience and strength over their lives through successes, failures, joys, and difficulties. At Springwell, our core mission is supporting the strength and resilience of older adults with programs that address challenges and provide services that help people to live independently in their community as they age.
As we observe Older Americans Month, we are reflecting on the ways that our help has changed over the last year and celebrating the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.
Jen Darby, Springwell’s Associate Director of Community Services manages the process of providing for the needs of the older adults we serve. For most, that involves enrollment in one of a number of Springwell’s government subsidized, or insurance-based programs that provide for a wide variety of services, but people frequently have other small and sometimes unusual needs that are uncovered by these programs. That has been especially true over the past year.
Jen notes that on an ongoing basis, there is always need for lift chairs, home safety equipment, room air conditioners, and space heaters, but there are definitely some new needs that have been directly related to staying at home more due to the pandemic. “Suddenly doctors wanted to communicate with older adults via telehealth instead of having them come to the office. Families couldn’t visit due to safety risks which increased social isolation. Springwell was able to help older adults stay connected with their doctors, friends, and family by providing iPads or Chrome Books. I can attest to the adaptability and resilience of these adults who share their joy at being able to use the technology. One 92-year-old woman who had not previously used any computers exclaimed ‘I’m so busy’ and shared how delighted she is to connect with her family and friends and join Zoom activities with video tools.”
Another tool that has been helpful during the pandemic is a light box to help alleviate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder. With stay-at-home recommendations and short winter days in New England, providing older adults with light boxes has been a great help in lifting their spirits.
“In addition to light boxes and iPads, we have been able to help several older adults with rent that was in arrears due to jobs lost during COVID. That help for just a couple of months made all the difference to those families,” notes Jen. She adds that “sometimes we help with a gas card or with groceries to alleviate food insecurity. I am thankful that we have the ability to help with needs that we uncover through talking with older adults in our service area.”
When the services and supports that that an older adults or caregiver needs are not covered by the programs Springwell offers that is when our Elder Independence Fund makes all the difference to seniors in need. The Elder Independence Fund, supported entirely by donations from community members, allows Springwell staff to provide seniors and caregivers help they need to alleviate their distress, maintain their independence, and improve their quality of life. The value of these donations aptly illustrates the power of connection and engagement in building strong communities.
“As we emerge from the pandemic, I expect some form of video will be a valuable ongoing tool for isolated seniors. Other needs may change but there will always be need and it brings me joy to be able to identify needs in our seniors who are survivors and thrivers and help address that need with the resources of the Elder Independence Fund made possible by our generous community,” concludes Jen Darby.