New geriatrics institute aims to improve region’s infrastructure for seniors

New geriatrics institute aims to improve region’s infrastructure for seniors

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — Kathy Leindecker’s aging parents live 5 miles from her home in East Lyme, and in caring for them she stops by as often as she can, and has made an arrangement with outside caregivers.

Leindecker, an occupational therapist, is growing more concerned for their well-being as they become less and less capable, she said, so she is looking for a caregiving road map that will help the family.

“Everything is so hard, and I’m realizing how isolated they are,” she said. “There’s a new restaurant opening up nearby, and my dad wants to go because he misses hanging out with his guy friends.

“It makes me realize that I need to start planning for my own aging self and where I am in my stage of life,” she said. “If I don’t, my son will have these same responsibilities.”

Leindecker was one of about 100 area residents who attended the SeniorsStrong Summit on Saturday at the Mystic Marriott. It was the inaugural event of the Mystic Geriatrics Institute, a new nonprofit that aims to enhance the quality of life of senior communities in greater Southeast Connecticut and Rhode Island.

Speakers, panel discussions and breakout sessions dealt with everything from person-centered care and geriatric care management to how seniors can find a sustainable network of resources in the community.

“I have a neighbor who broke her hip, and the outrageous effort it takes for her daily is unbelievable,” Patty Copp, who lives in Stonington, said. “You don’t see your needs until you need them. We need to plan ahead, and this event is educating us on how to do that.”

With more people living well into their 80s and 90s, panelists said, care strategies, and educating retirees on changes in medical laws, financial strategies, and even technology are keys to happiness.

“Everyone should have the tools to age well,” said Casey McGannon, a geriatric case manager and member of the Mystic Geriatrics Institute board of trustees. “My dad died in January, and while his apartment was a mess, he had a little file box that he had kept,” she said.

“Everything in it was alphabetized and had his Army papers and insurance papers. What a wonderful gift that was,” McGannon said. “Everyone should have quality of life as they get older.”

Staying Active

Up until about six months before he died, McGannon said, her dad was active. “He worked,” she said. “He was involved and engaged.”

According to the National Council on Aging, while many people think of older adults as retirees, “the truth is millions of Americans aged 55 and older work full- or part-time jobs every day for a variety of reasons, including financial security, independence or to stay active and engaged in their communities.”

Nearly twice as many workers aged 65 and older were employed in 2015 than were teenage workers, according to the national council’s statistics.

“The more older workers are engaged in the workplace, the more that drives production, which drives the economy,” Tim Driver, the founder and CEO of and Mature Caregivers, based in Waltham, Mass., said. “It leads to happiness, and what I call Gross National Happiness. Seniors are living longer and being more productive.”

Mary Riley, the president of the geriatrics institute’s board of trustees, said one of the primary goals of Saturday’s summit meeting, which she hopes turns into an annual event, is to collect and hear ideas and recommendations to improve local and regional senior wellness programs and services.

It’s a message Leindecker heard loud and clear.

“We need to keep people engaged,” Leindecker said. “The professional side of me is looking at how I can bring this back to East Lyme.”

Copp said one of the major resources communities already are beginning to provide is a concierge program, in which doctors, specialists and case managers are making home visits.

“That’s a huge help,” Copp said. “I see lots of 90-year-olds who just can’t get out.”

The institute, Riley said, will play a key role in educating and collaborating with communities to “establish infrastructure and services that promote elder well-being” and engage audiences through workshops and conferences.

“The institute is definitely meeting a need as this population grows,” Robert Elmer III, of Stonington, an Alzheimer’s care specialist, said. “There are a lot of valuable resources out there, but people just aren’t aware of them.”


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