Aging in place and in community safely

  • Lili Dwight of South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Lili Dwight of South Deerfield with a raised pet feeding station that makes it easier for her to feed her dog, Dennis Hopper, and easier for him to eat. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • “There are EMS apps you can get for your phone. It lets them access any important numbers,” Dwight said. Contributed image

  • There are numerous apps that can be used to assist seniors, such as one that has the person doing fire drills and giving information about actions to take and how long it took the individual to perform them. Contributed image

For the Recorder
Published: 7/26/2021 5:49:38 PM

“The most pervasive disease that is facing America is loneliness and isolation,” said Lili Dwight, chairperson of the Senior Housing Committee in Deerfield.

Dwight has been working in the field of creating situations and assistive technology for seniors for over 20 years. She holds three patents for technology and a phone application that can help with fire safety for those with cognitive impairment.

She has worked in elevated positions, such as a chief technology officer, with several technology companies around the country to help create better ways for people to not only age in place, but age in community. She is currently advocating for small housing developments similar to Green River Commons in Greenfield.

“A lot of people love their home, or they are simply accustomed to it. But they may also be trapped there, which is isolating,” said Dwight, who added that she believes Franklin County may have the largest population of elderly residents in the state. She said that people may also become overwhelmed with the responsibilities of owning a home such as “mowing the lawn or taking care of that branch that keeps hitting the roof.”

She said she is hopeful current bills being presented on the federal level will provide more financial assistance to help create more small, accessible communities for seniors.

Dwight offered guidance and a number of suggestions regarding how someone can age in their home more safely. Some actions that can be taken can be considered by the homeowner or family members, but can start with simply making sure there are no rugs or wires to trip over Dwight said.

What to consider about aging in place initially

“To me, you need to begin the process by considering if you have any health-related issues, or know there is a strong likelihood you may in the future,” Dwight said.

A concern Dwight emphasized was whether a person has a backup for whatever the power source is, even if it’s solar. “They can’t have electricity going over the wires if they are repairing them, for example,” she said. “You need to have a back-up battery or gas generator.”

Dwight noted, for example, if you have insulin in the refrigerator, or are on oxygen, you will want to be sure of a power backup. She said people want to think about any medications they have and how to access them as well.

When you come to a point in your or a loved one’s life when you begin to consider how to make a safer, more functional space, Dwight suggested doing an assessment with local builders who specialize in the field. She mentioned Pioneer Valley Builders AIP and Wright Builders for example.

“You also want to talk to your local Office on Aging such as LifePath in Greenfield. They have grants to help people make needed adjustments in their home,” she said, emphasizing these are services paid for with taxes. “So it’s not a charity,” she said.

Also, people who have both Medicaid and Medicare can apply for Commonwealth Care Alliance, which covers many assistive devices and ramps.

Other considerations to aging in place

“The next thing you want to think about is what your desires are. What are the things that bring you pleasure? For example, if you love to garden, an elevated/raised garden bed can be built,” said Dwight.

Dwight, whose mother was a gerontologist, used to tell her that every time she went into a home, assisted living or other senior housing, she would always notice “the chair.” Dwight said that through the habit of living, a lot can be deciphered from the things that end up around your favorite chair, such as a pile of books, TV remote, a wine glass, etc. Dwight said that no matter where you live, most people have a “command center” chair.

“So make sure you have a really comfortable chair — one you can get in and out of easily,” she said, adding “You want to look at ‘What does my environment tell me about what I do with my life?’”

If you have pets, you can get bowls that are on elevated stands (unless your dog is very small) so you don’t have to bend over so much. Dwight also suggested if you have a litter box on the floor, you can also find a way to elevate the box.

“Cats don’t mind climbing things,” she said.

Assistive technology, big and small

In the 1990s, Dwight developed “smart walls,” which detect if a person has fallen and what response should take place. Dwight said there can be a time set, such as having not gotten up for five minutes, before actions such as automatically dialing designated people or 911.

Dwight said people often don’t like wearing Life Alerts because they scream “I’m old or disabled.” She said the walls are designed to give the person the control to make decisions about how it should function.

“You control it, it doesn’t control you,” she said.

The unit was $4,000 in 1996, but costs less now due to the use of Wi-Fi.

Dwight said that people often have a difficult time deciding something is an emergency, even when they would easily recognize an emergency for someone else. “Often people are worried they will create a fuss or don’t want to bother people. The use of smart devices and technology allow you to make decisions before something happens,” she said.

There are also systems that can be set up to alert a person to eat, take medications, or make note of how often you have gotten out of bed. Dwight said previously systems were set to alert others, such as family members, but she prefers newer systems that alert the person.

“Instead of letting someone else know you didn’t open the fridge to drink your Ensure, you get a message to drink your Ensure,” she said.

There are numerous apps that can be used to assist seniors, such as the one developed by Dwight that has the person doing fire drills and giving information about actions to take and how long it took the individual to perform them.

Communication and cell phones are also important. “And they (cell phones) need to be charged and someplace you can actually get to them,” Dwight said. She suggests using a smart watch as they give the greatest level of accessibility, or having a holster for a phone. “There are EMS apps you can get for your phone. It lets them access any important numbers,” she said.

Dwight has spend many years looking at aging in place but voiced she hopes communities can come together to create homes and resources so people can more often age in community.

Cris Carl is an avid local gardener, licensed therapist and certified herbalist. You can reach her at cstormfox57@gmail.com.




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