A survey of Peninsula seniors commissioned by Avenidas of Palo Alto has found that most respondents overwhelmingly desire to "age in place," or live in their own homes as they advance in age.
The survey, done roughly every 5-10 years, sought views from seniors living throughout the Midpeninsula, including Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford and East Palo Alto. More than 800 adults over the age of 60 responded.
For the first time, said Barbara Carlitz, a member of the Avenidas board, Avenidas hired a national survey company to handle the results so that they could be compared nationally. Locally, of 52 areas of assessment, 38 were on par, 11 were above, and three were below national benchmarks.
The three sub-par areas were cost of living, availability of affordable housing and variety of housing options.
The survey found that an overwhelming 88% of older residents rated their overall quality of life as excellent or good. About 78% said they plan to stay in their community throughout their retirement.
However, only 10% of respondents gave a positive score to the availability of affordable quality housing in their communities. Close to 30% have "housing stress," meaning they spend 30% or more of their income on housing.
While Avenidas "has no intention" of getting into the housing business, it does see a role to advocate for accessible and affordable housing, Carlitz said. The hope is to continue making sure Avenidas' programs match the needs and concerns of the community while advocating for affordable and available senior housing.
A key framework of the survey for measuring how likely seniors are to stay where they are was "community livability." According to the executive summary of the survey, community livability "starts with assessing the quality of life of those who live there and ensuring that the community is attractive, accessible and welcoming to all. "
One factor of livability is the level of social connections that seniors have. To address seniors' needs to feel connected, Avenidas has begun its own version of The Village, a program originating in the Boston neighborhood of Beacon Hill 20 years ago. Today, Avenidas Village provides support and activities to 325 members.
There are walking groups and excursions that are planned by a Village staff member and two part-time staffers.
Carlitz and another "villager" started a writing group that has now grown to 28 people and meets in two writing groups.
"(Villagers) get to meet in their own community," Carlitz said. "It does fill a need for older people."
The Village also maintains a vetted list of vendors whom seniors can call upon. The Village provides automatic membership in Avenidas, which has the benefit of a social worker who can make sure mental health needs are being met and no one remains isolated.
Strategies for living on one's own
Carlitz sees an irony in the fact that many seniors are living in their original homes on the Midpeninsula, which are often large and become difficult to maintain. One of the survey results was a concern about home repair and maintenance. So, Avenidas has recently beefed up its home maintenance program, teaming up with Palo Alto's Hassett Hardware (Ace) to create a handyman program made up of current and former Ace employees available to help seniors.
Channing Avenue resident Judy Ousterhout is alone in life and has been preparing for years to "age in place."
"My own personal response is to try to think ahead as much as possible," she said.
In 2015 she remodeled her master bathroom.
"Realizing I might have future accessibility situations, I eliminated the bathtub in favor of a shower, which is curbless," Ousterhout said. "I recently had occasion to be happy I made the bathroom renovations. After a bad fall I was briefly in the hospital and a nursing home; when I returned home I added a portable shower chair, which fits nicely into the remodeled bath."
At the same time, she decided to add rails to the side entryway of her home.
"These are great for my own use and for visitors," she said. "Both of these improvements were made with the idea that ‘one day I might need them' or ‘my friends may need railings'— little did I know I'd be utilizing both so soon."
As far as community connections are concerned, Ousterhout belongs to the local Rotary Club.
"I decided this year to volunteer as board secretary so that I would feel more connected with club activities," she said.
She is also a member of two small book groups.
Retired high school English teacher Shannon Griscom can't imagine living anywhere other than her Melville Avenue home in the heart of Palo Alto.
"We all do want to age in place, and I'm not interested in a senior residence, but I recognize that may be necessary. The cost for in-home care is very high," she said.
But Griscom also noted that a relative lives in a local assisted living facility, and that costs $12,000 a month.
"Here's the thing: The word 'control' is such an illusion," said Griscom, a widow. "We have to live with despair and uncertainty."
She has plenty of social interactions, though: Friends live within walking distance of her home.
"I try to keep my dance card pretty full. I try to keep connections with my neighbors," she said recently, as she prepared to walk to a local park for a tai chi class.