The Golden Years: Aging in Our Region (Part One)

Mar 8, 2012

Right now, 1.2 million seniors age 65 and up live in North Carolina. That number could trump 2 million by 2030.

In the first installment of WHQR’s series The Golden Years: Aging in Our Region, Michelle Bliss reports that local governments across the state are scrambling to secure more services and funding.

The private sector is also expanding to meet new demands.

With more people living longer, are we ready? The facts and statistics and opinions surrounding that question can be overwhelming.

Bev Perdue: “North Carolina—one of the biggest, I think, failures from all of our perspectives has been our lack, consistently, to look at the future needs of the growing elderly population of our state. And we are now a baby boomer, graying state.”

Dennis Streets: “We currently have a waitlist that exceeds 18-thousand, primarily for home-delivered meals and in-home aid. And those are critical services in helping people remain living in the community which is where most people would want to be.”

Melannie Pate: “You know, Medicare and Medicaid cover some things, but it’s still extremely expensive, so people struggle with that—it’s financial burden. But there are resources out there and sometimes it takes people working together.”

You just heard from Governor Bev Perdue, Dennis Streets who directs the state division on aging and adult services, and Melannie Pate with Alzheimer’s NC.

The trio could talk for hours about the programs and services North Carolina is charged with expanding for elder care.

They include everything from meals and transportation to education and caregiver support, along with bulking up the healthcare workforce and growing both public and private infrastructure.

After months of construction, an assisted living facility called Stonebridge at Woodbury will open in Hampstead next week. Director Teri Ragan describes the center as a bridge between home and a nursing facility where staff members help clients with bathing, grooming, and taking medicine by providing gentle reminders.

Stonebridge has 70 assisted living beds, along with 30 beds for patients with dementia.

“This is our memory care unit. And it’s actually a locked unit with doors and codes to get in, so it’s a little more secure. And then the gardens, these are all closed in so they cannot go out to the roads or anything.”

Wandering is a dangerous phase of Alzheimer’s, so Ragan and her team have installed a special device to protect their clients.

“And one of the things we also have is a roundabout built in for wanderers. So, when you walk, you actually are gently guided back to a walking area.”

The roundabout is a wall-like structure in the middle of a room, shaped like a horseshoe. It’s a bumper guard to keep wanderers safe.

“Sometimes with wanderers, you might find yourself walking into a corner or getting kind of trapped. And they just get totally exhausted and their mind will tell them not to stop.”

Ragan says there’s a high need for memory care in Pender County where more than 20 percent of residents are 60 or older. That number could be almost 30 percent by 2030.

“We need help in this area. We need to provide a place for the community not only in the living area, but also in the outreach and being able to help educate.”

Part of that outreach is holding support group meetings for people like Ann Deveny whose husband Dan was diagnosed in 2006 with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Dan was in his late-fifties.

Ann took care of him for years, but his needs have outgrown her abilities, so Dan now lives at Brightmore of Wilmington where he receives 24/7 care.

“You get to the point where you spend so much time taking care of them, rather than enjoying them. But now that he’s in a facility, I can enjoy him because others are taking care of him. I can spend all the time I’m there just focusing totally on him.”

In Wilmington, crews could break ground as early as next week on Cambridge Village, another assisted living center with 250 beds.

As the aging population grows, private facilities will keep popping up and expanding to provide comfortable safe havens for some of our most fragile residents. But with only a fraction of families able to afford such care, the private sector is just one slender slice of a much larger pie.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? If so, we'd like to hear from you. Please email the WHQR News Team.