Local experts on healthy aging think a new program can help seniors remain in their homes well into their golden years. They just need some volunteers to prove it.
Harvey Noordsy, president of Aging in Place-Glens Falls, is a champion of the Full Circle America system, which promotes the formation of support networks — relatives, friends and other volunteers — around older residents to ensure they are getting the help and social interaction so important for healthy aging.
Full Circle America, based in Damariscotta, Maine, helps establish the “care circles” and also provides modern technology to make homes safer. The business was founded by Alan Teel, a doctor and author of “Alone and Invisible No More,” a book about how communities can work together to improve elder care, even as they lower the costs associated with it.
Noordsy and his wife, Betty, understand the benefits of aging in place. When they retired, the couple tried to live in a retirement community but quickly realized they were happier in their own house. They moved back home, and Aging in Place-Glens Falls was created.
Now, the organization uses a time bank system, whereby elderly residents give each other the support needed to remain happily in their own homes.
In an effort to make it easier for more seniors to remain in their homes longer, Aging in Place-Glens Falls is seeking a few residents from the greater Glens Falls Area — Noordsy loosely defined that as running from Hudson Falls north to Lake George and Lake Luzerne — to try out the Full Circle America program.
Specifically, Noordsy said his group is looking for five candidates — or couples — who want to remain in their homes but who also have concerns about doing so safely and practically.
“It’s often not the seniors themselves who are going to opt for (the program),” Noordsy said. “It’s often their adult kids who are the ones who kind of push in that direction.”
Not all participants in the Full Circle America program will need in-home motion-sensing cameras and monitoring devices. But those who need the “virtual assisted living” systems will also need to be capable of paying the estimated $400 monthly fee for the technology and monitoring service.
For that price, the senior’s care circle members — and Full Circle America technicians in Maine — will be able to remotely learn whether an elderly resident is in need of assistance. The system also makes it easier for seniors in the program to connect with relatives, friends and volunteer care circle members.
Noordsy lamented that efforts so far by Full Circle America to get the expenses for the service covered by Medicare have failed, but the monthly fee is still more affordable than many other elder care options in the region, he said.
Dr. Paul Bachman, who has worked for Hudson Headwaters Health Network for 27 years, is among local health care experts who are working to identify candidates for the pilot program.
He sees the Full Circle America concept as a way to help seniors remain connected to their friends and family even as they avoid the stress, strain and isolation that can come with more expensive options, like nursing homes and assisted care facilities.
“The ideal candidate (for the pilot program) is a man or woman or couple who are living in their own home and having difficulties maintaining their independence,” Bachman said. “They’re not people who need assisted living or nursing home placement at this point in their life, and they could probably maintain independence if they just had social support.”
Bachman stressed not all candidates will need the in-home monitoring equipment, for which there is also a $500 refundable deposit. The most important aspect of the program is keeping seniors engaged with family, friends and community.
“We’re looking for somebody who’s willing to have some people become their friends, call them on a scheduled basis to check on them and maybe be available to drive them, if they need to go to a doctor’s appointment, or just check in on them on a regular basis,” Bachman said.
Noordsy, who has the virtual assisted living equipment set up temporarily in his home in Queensbury, explained how the various devices work to keep seniors safe. He set the equipment up because he needed to be familiar with its operation, but the cameras — one monitors the dining room and living room and another monitors the kitchen — and door sensors will be moved to a Full Circle America program participant, once one is identified.
The cameras themselves can detect motion, and Noordsy showed how a care circle member — a relative, volunteer, friend or Full Circle America technician — can see when motion happens in the house, and where. A live image of the areas covered by the cameras is also available to those who log into the program participant’s secure page at fullcircleamerica.com.
Noordsy and Bachman admitted program participants are going to have to be comfortable having such technology in their homes. But if a participant needs the technology, the safety it provides can be worth it.
Noordsy related a story about a woman who had a Full Circle America system set up in her home, and it was equipped with a temperature sensor. A Full Circle America staffer noticed the home was getting too cold and arranged for a visit by a care circle member.
It turned out the woman had accidentally flipped an emergency furnace shut-off switch, thinking it controlled the lights in her basement.
Other non-camera devices can detect motion in bathrooms with enough accuracy to determine whether the resident has fallen down. And door sensors can be programmed to alert care circle members if exterior doors are opened at strange hours.
Noordsy said the latter feature was a comfort for one family who was worried about an elderly member wandering out of the home in the middle of the night. Before the sensors were installed, they had hired a caregiver to provide overnight in-home monitoring.
Noordsy and Bachman said the hope is a Full Circle America program in Glens Falls could help prove the program’s efficacy enough to prompt legislation that would allow the service to be covered by Medicare and other forms of insurance.
That, in turn, could help more seniors avoid or, at least stall, their need for assisted living or nursing home options.