Ageism is the a prejudice against people based on their age, and older adults are often the victims of it, being made to feel cast out or pushed aside.
"It's not just about providing services to elders. It's about making sure that this is a good place for them to live, that they're accepted and valued and that they can contribute," said CARE of Clallam County executive director Sheryl Lowe.
"Ageism keeps older adults from participating in communities because people think that they're not worth anything."
Ageism often leads to feelings of isolation and deep depression in older adults. In other cases, the isolation is very real. They have lost loved ones, companions or simply are no longer physically mobile.
The CARE Partnership (Community Advocates for Rural Elders) recently announced plans to partner with the Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) of Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to develop what is called a "facilitated social support network" as a means of solving cases of self-isolation and depression.
The issues of older adults are especially important in Clallam County where one out of every four residents is age 60 or over. Clallam County also is the home of five tribal nations that are dealing with their own elder care challenges.
The CARE Partnership of Clallam County was started through a five-and-a-half-year, $1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The partnership's mission is to change the way Clallam County provides health care for area seniors as well as to provide innovative solutions to existing problems within the system.
"Basically, what the foundation wanted us to do was create a partnership model of addressing issues into the future. Yes, we want to improve the health of the elders in our community, but the way that we want to do that is by each community creating a collaboration of partners that work together to solve those issues," said Lowe. "We aren't about directing direct services. We're about changing the way we do things so services can be delivered better or that we can expand services."
The PLAN Institute's model for facilitated social support networks seems to fit perfectly with CARE's goal of creating self-sustaining partnerships.
The networking model was developed for mentally disabled adults and their elderly parents nearly 20 years ago in Canada. The No. 1 concern for these parents was often, "What will happen to my child if something happens to me?" Would their child have someone (more importantly, someone they know and trust) to care for them or would they fall through the cracks?
The PLAN Institute's solution was to facilitate -- working alongside the families - the creation of support systems that are almost handcrafted, mirroring a circle of friends rather than a group of caretakers unfamiliar with the family's dynamics or the specific needs of each individual.
The model will be applied to older adults in Clallam County with extreme cases of self-isolation and depression.
How it works is that CARE and PLAN will train volunteers to become facilitators. These facilitators, in return, will come into the home of the older adult and their caregivers to interview and work with that family. But rather than a standard question such as, "What do you need?" they probably would ask, "What are your dreams?" or "What are you missing?" or "What do you want your life to be like?"
"Based on that, they come up with a sense of interests and the desires and the visions of these people that they're working with and they go out into the community and find agencies or individuals or businesses or associations that can match those interests and values of the family," explained Lowe.
The facilitators then bring back the potential volunteers or support agencies so the family can interview them and get a better sense of whether or not they want to work with that volunteer. If the family feels good about this person, then they become a part of what's called "the circle of care." The circle eventually will involve a number of various individuals and organizations that not only interact with the individual but with each other, like a chain link.
"And eventually, when the facilitator removes him or herself from the circle, those people aren't considered volunteers. They've become friends with that person and it's sort of this lasting lifetime way of changing that person's life from being very isolated to having all of that support," explained Lowe.
In addition to Canada, the networking structure has been successfully implemented in Australia, Scotland and Holland. Clallam County one of three communities in the United States to participate.
"As the population gets older and grows more, the way we do health and human services for older adults is not going to work ... so we need to figure out what to do. We don't have a choice," Lowe said.
To learn more about the PLAN Institute, visit www.planinstitute.ca. To learn more about the new networking
program or to volunteer contact CARE Partnership of Clallam County at 457-0562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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