Arlington and Alexandria working to help older adults age in place

June 16, 2011

Arlington County and Alexandria are working on building communities that are welcoming to all age groups and help the eldest neighbors age in place in their homes.

County and city programs offer services and assistance to senior citizens in senior centers and government offices, but they are adding services directly where the population lives.

To help older people live independently while being close to help, Arlington has partnered with Volunteers of America to hire a concierge for a high-rise building that is naturally becoming a senior community, Wildwood Park on Columbia Pike. The concierge will help the residents in the 500-unit building find recreation or health services nearby.

“We are able through our partnership to help people stay where they are,” said Terri Lynch, director of the Arlington Agency on Aging. The initiative is key to the county’s Elder Readiness Plan.

Residents of Arlington’s Culpepper Garden, an apartment complex for independent older people, are offered a meal program within the community. The county provides other services, such as transportation and health care.

Arlington and Alexandria also plan to encourage people to convert houses to a universal design, which features lower light switches and wider door frames for wheelchair access.

Alexandria officials are trying to develop programs to meet the growing need of affordable housing for the aging population, said MaryAnn Griffin, director of the Alexandria Office on Aging and Adult Services. Planning for affordable senior housing is a priority in the city’s draft of its Strategic Plan on Aging, but helping people stay in their homes takes money, too.

“Homeowners’ incomes have stayed flat, but the value of homes increased,” she said. “That means . . . an increased demand for rent relief and probably an increase of people looking for the city to give relief on property tax.”

And the need is expected to swell.

The number of Alexandria residents older than 60 increased by 63 percent in the past decade. During that time in Arlington, the share of those 85 and older increased 40 percent. Both jurisdictions will see those populations boom by 2030, according to local studies.

There also are large increases in the numbers of elderly Asians and Hispanics, creating a need for more bilingual staff in senior centers and government offices.

The federally funded Door-Through-Door program has Vietnamese- and Spanish- speaking certified home health aides working in Arlington and Alexandria to help clients during appointments. The aides help a person get ready for an appointment, travel with the person using Senior Taxi or another transportation program, and bring them back home.

“There are transportation providers that will not pick up certain clients or consumers if they don’t have someone with them,” said Marla Lahat, director of Home Care Partners, which provides the aide service. “This made it possible for some people who really couldn’t travel to the doctor make it to their medical appointments.”

This transportation service is one of several offered in Arlington and Alexandria. Both localities offer bus trips for grocery shopping, recreation trips and more. They also have paratransit services for elderly and disabled residents. Alexandria’s Senior Taxi service allows people who are at least 60 to take a taxi for $2 anywhere they would like to go — even on weekends.

Both communities offer classes, recreation and other activities for those in their 60s up to their 80s. But getting the word out about the programs is “the biggest challenge for everybody in the aging network,” Griffin said.

“If people didn’t know about it, then they can’t take advantage of it,” she said.

To contact the Arlington Agency on Aging, call 703-228-1700. To contact Alexandria’s Office of Aging and Adult Services, call 703-746-5700.

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