by Laurel Wicks
The Tetons are an incredible place to live out your youth, and they are a wonderful place to grow old. While our elders may not be the most visible or vocal members of our community, they have provided a backbone of support for decades. Families may scatter for much of their members’ lives, but they are often drawn together later by choice and/or necessity. As neighbors and family members age, they remain vitally important, and should always be included in our thoughts and activities. The eldest generation gathered here for several reasons. Some are pioneers or their first-generation descendants, who were born and remained here to witness the transformation of the rugged, rural land. Another large segment of the demographic ventured to the region decades ago as young adults and stayed to build careers, homes, and families. There are also newer, younger residents who have brought their parents or grandparents here from other places to live out their days in this vibrant and beautiful environment.
In Teton County, Wyoming, 9.9 percent of the population, or approximately 2,100 people, are older than sixty-five. According to Ruby Parsons—a founding board member of the Seniors West of the Tetons Senior Center in Driggs—Teton County, Idaho, is home to about five hundred citizens over sixty years old. Available resources for elders have grown as their numbers have increased; opportunities for seniors to get out of their homes and retain vital social relationships abound through local hospitals, church groups, and care agencies. For those more frail and homebound, the network of caregivers, homecare, and hospice services grows ever larger to assist both the elderly and their families.
The Senior Center of Jackson Hole, located at 830 East Hanson, has provided services to 1,315 people so far this year; they served nineteen thousand senior meals in 2011, including three routes of home-delivered meals. The center provides educational and fun activities ranging from fitness classes like yoga, Qigong, and Zumba to Spanish classes, Bible study, pinochle, bridge, cribbage, and bingo. Health-related sessions include blood pressure checks, Medicare assistance, and foot clinics with a podiatrist.
The center hosts two separate caregiver-support groups each month facilitated by professional counselors. They have an equipment closet stocked with walkers, wheelchairs, crutches, shower chairs, and benches to loan. The center mails out more than nine hundred newsletters each month, and a bus is available for pick up and delivery to the center, with assistance available from door to door. For a small fee, the bus is available for shopping and other errands.
Across the street from the Senior Center is Pioneer Homestead Apartments. The three buildings here include seventy-eight units for people sixty-two or older and of limited income, or the disabled of any age. Residents live independently, and the facility honors the federal Grandparents Raising Children program, which means family members may not be denied residence. Companion pets—cats and small dogs—as well as working dogs for the disabled are allowed. About half of the residents have animals. Some additional benefits include laundry facilities on every floor, and a library with books, games, and puzzles. About 60 percent of those living here have moved in from out of the area to be with their children and families, and the waiting list for the apartments remains at about twenty names. Many residents stay for as long as fifteen years.
“These people have much to give,” says Deborah Barnes, property manager at Pioneer Homestead Apartments. “They are deep wells and [too often] no one draws from them. Our job is making a difference in folks’ lives. I think more people need to volunteer to visit with elders. It helps turn people’s heads around.”
Barnes speaks from experience. Most of her career was spent as a child psychologist. And when her nephew was rebellious, having difficulties with relationships and school, her sister had him volunteer to help the elderly in their community. Barnes saw firsthand her nephew’s dramatic transformation to becoming more adaptive and tolerant.
River Rock Assisted Living Facility south of Jackson is another, more opulent option for independent living. The beautiful facility, run by the Oxford Group of Kansas, offers full meal service, housekeeping and maintenance, scheduled transportation, paid utilities, an emergency call system, and group activities. Trained staff, including medical professionals, is available for monitoring and assistance with medications, medical appointments, and personal care such as bathing and dressing.
St. John’s Living Center is a long-term care, skilled-nursing facility connected to the hospital in Jackson. However fragile it may sometimes be, life abounds here. In the Eden Alternative facility a large aviary of colorful finches greets visitors. Three cats reside among the residents. The sixty-bed facility is truly a community within a community, with an average of 10 percent of residents there for rehabilitation and short-term respite care.
“It’s a pretty dynamic place with lots of coming and going,” says administrator Pat Weber. “We keep moving toward our goal of being resident-centered. Relationships are based on two-way communication. There are three registered nurses and eight certified nursing assistants every day. The staff truly cares.”
Activities include popcorn parties, Sunday services, and a music teacher with guitar that entertains and interacts with residents and their families. Residents find joy in visits with the children from St. John’s Medical Center on-site daycare who come every Monday. The kids grow comfortable around seniors and don’t fear wheelchairs or wrinkled faces. Residents are invited to employee picnics and Karen Connelly, Director of Marketing for St. John’s, was surprised when her young daughter said, “Oh, there is my friend, I have to go say hello,” and walked right over to greet a frail woman in a wheelchair.
On staff at the Living Center is a social worker that addresses such issues as medications management, safety, nutrition, and preventive health care. Public Health Nursing provides annual flu shots and visits with an audiologist. It is important to acknowledge grieving for the loss of pets, friends, driving ability, and mental and physical capacities in general, and there is guidance for those dealing with the changing roles of parents and their children.
On the Idaho side of Teton Pass, the Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership sponsors the Area VI Agency on Aging, which offers resources for seniors including adult protection and caregiver support; various health, financial, and legal services; participation in the Grandparents Raising Grandchildren program; and in-home services to ensure seniors are able to stay in their homes. District VII Public Health Nursing’s services range from legal aid and low-income energy assistance to home care and advocacy programs.
Avalon Home Health and Hospice provides health care to seniors in Teton Valley who are unable to leave their home. A nurse can do an initial assessment and help with insurance coverage (100 percent covered by Medicare, others vary) and local caregivers with reliable transportation are assigned to clients. And Teton Valley Health Care provides care and screenings, including services for those in need of financial assistance, through the hospital and clinic in Driggs as well as a smaller clinic in Victor.
After going years without, Teton Valley welcomes the Teton Peaks Assisted Living facility set to open January 2013. The sixteen-bed facility located just north of Driggs offers independent living with twenty-four-hour nurse oversight for folks ready to turn over the keys to their own home. They provide meals, medication reminders, and shower assistance, and have partnered with Avalon Home Health and Hospice for medical caregivers.
Seniors West of the Tetons Senior Center serves lunch to anywhere from thirty to sixty on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday each week (but it’s closed for holidays). They feature Pie Day and Bingo on Tuesdays. The center has a Fit & Fall-Proof exercise session led by a therapist on Mondays and Thursdays at 9:00 am. Sponsored by Eagle Orthopedics and Sports Physical Therapy, this multi-level class is free and open to the public. Blood pressure checks are available on Mondays. Each month the center hosts a speaker presentation called Women of Teton Valley; an additional gathering honors one local citizen each month.
One final regional resource of stellar quality is the Institute for Cognitive Health at St. John’s Medical Center. An affiliate of the University of Utah Center for Alzheimer’s Care, Imaging, and Research, the Institute provides screenings and neuropsychological assessment and directs a continuum of care for those with memory impairment. It offers educational seminars on healthy aging, and maintains a lending library. Three support groups that meet monthly offer guidance for those dealing with the isolation involved in caring for loved ones suffering from mental decline. Each October the institute takes part in National Memory Screening Day.
Every November the Institute for Cognitive Health teams up with the Senior Center of Jackson Hole to host the Brain Game Challenge sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. For this event, the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation Department and local high school Honor Society students work together to create diverse activities, including a Language Learning Lab in four languages, a Zumba movement class, and lots of puzzles and games. It’s a time for people of all ages to come together, and there is plenty of food and fun for everyone.
There is a sweetness to be shared hanging out with old folks. It is amazing the unexpected things one might learn, or the glimpses of the past one might see, provided by someone who was there. My grandmother, who was born in 1891 and grew up “back East,” once shared a bit of personal history while she was looking at pictures in a bird book with some visiting children: “I remember the first time I ever saw a ring-necked pheasant.” “Really?” the children asked. “Haven’t they always been here?”
“No, they were imported from Korea about the turn of the twentieth century. My dad was sitting with us kids on the porch. Our mother was dying of cancer,” she continued. “A beautiful pheasant walked out of the cornfield into the yard. Father told us to sit perfectly still while he went inside to carry Mother out to see that marvelous bird.”
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RESOURCES FOR SENIORS IN THE TETONS Teton County, Idaho Area VI Agency on Aging/Eastern Idaho Community Action Partnership • eicap.org/opsl/seniors • 208.522.5391 Avalon Home Health and Hospice • avalonhh.com • 208.419.0896 District VII Public Health Nursing • Sally Coburn • 208.354.2334 Idaho Commission on Aging • aging.idaho.gov • 800.926.2588 Seniors West of the Tetons Senior Center • City Center Building, Driggs • 208.354.6973 Teton Peaks Assisted Living • 208.201.6284 or 208.403.5751 Teton Valley Health Care • tvhcare.org • 208.354.2383
Teton County, Wyoming Institute for Cognitive Health • tetonhospital.org/cognitive • 307.739.7434 Pioneer Homestead Apartments • 307.733.9787 River Rock Assisted Living Facility • riverrockalf.com • 307.734.0500 Senior Center of Jackson Hole • seniorcenterjh.org • 307.733.7300 St. John’s Living Center • tetonhospital.org/livingcenter • 307.739.7450 Wyoming Aging and Disability Resource Center • swwrap.com • 877.435.7851 Wyoming Department of Health’s Aging Division • health.wyo.gov/aging • 800.442.2766