SPOA listening session

Jo Moncher, community relations manager for the Division of Long Term Supports at DHHS explains topics for the listening session on the next State Plan on Aging Friday at the Rockingham County Nursing Home in Brentwood.

BRENTWOOD — Easier access to information on resources for seniors and improvements in transportation have echoed statewide as urgent requests for the next four-year State Plan on Aging — the document which will guide service creation for seniors from 2019 to 2023.

The 12th listening session Friday at Rockingham County Nursing Home brought 35 elders and advocates, many with concrete and compelling suggestions for enhancing the lives of aging Granite Staters.

Twenty percent of New Hampshire’s population will be 65 or older in two years, and addressing the needs of aging baby boomers has become a priority in northern New England, the nation’s oldest region. National and state statistics show older adults want to live at home as long as possible, and meeting their needs has become paramount for policy creators, including in New Hampshire.

“We want this to be a guiding document: How can we become more age-friendly? How can you use the state plan as a tool for making changes in your communities?” said Wendi Aultman, bureau chief for the state’s Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services.

“We start writing with feedback from all of you,” said Jo Moncher, community relations manager at the state’s Division of Health and Human Services, and facilitator of the listening sessions.

“This plan includes older adults from every community,” and is developed with guidance from the 42-member New Hampshire State Plan on Aging Planning Committee, which includes advocacy groups such as the Alzheimer’s Association and AARP. “The opportunity and responsibility belongs to all of us,” Moncher said.

Three women from Epping cited insufficient transportation. “We can’t visit our friends. We can’t go shopping. We can’t get out of our houses. We’re stuck. I’m the only one who can drive,” said Audrey Irving, 80. “How much longer can I do that? I live in a neighborhood. All of us on our road, we all help each other.”

“Older adults helping other older adults – that’s what’s working well in your community,” Moncher said. “What else goes on our good list? Attitude and perseverance!”

Martha Swiderski of Hampstead took 20 surveys to pass out to other seniors where she lives. “I’m an old lady and I’m proud of it. I still clean my gutters. Thank goodness for line dancing. We’re not old people. We’re old kids.”

A self-described library enthusiast, Swiderski attends nearly every bibliophile event she can get to. “My second home is the libraries,” she said.

She called out Exeter’s library and senior center programs for excluding residents from other towns.

“We need to be more inclusive and advocate for cities and towns to be more welcoming and flexible, and to create larger social access,” Aultman said.

According to surveys received, over 40 percent of New Hampshire’s seniors spend time at town libraries, parks and recreation classes and events, and their churches, Moncher said.

But finding out about senior programs and services can be difficult because there seems to be no easily navigable, central clearinghouse for information, according to session attendees.

“People still don’t know we have solutions. The idea of getting the word out about what there is, in a simpler way, would be great,” said Debbie Perou, director of Rockingham Meals on Wheels, which serves roughly 1,000 a day, and provides nearly 100 rides to seniors. “You can see a thousand commercials for buying a smart phone. One of the reasons we don’t do marketing ourselves is because we’re always putting the money towards the service.”

“If you don’t have a senior resources committee in your town, it’s important to start one,” said Bonnie Roberts, who serves on Londonderry’s committee.

Income eligibility still works to exclude a large block from valuable programs — “people who are not very low income and not very wealthy,” said Connie Young, program director at Rockingham County ServiceLink. “Our middle class is struggling financially to meet living costs and medical expenses. They call and say, Why can’t I get any help? I’m not eligible for this, this, and this. We need to do better with them. I don’t have the answer, but it needs to be on our radar.”

Across New Hampshire, the best access points for information on what’s available for seniors are ServiceLink at 1-866-634-9412; 211, a hotline for resource information, available at 211.NH.org and by calling 211; and the Department of Health and Human Services’ website: NHCarePath.org. Individual town websites also list local programs.

A final draft of the next state plan is due July 12, and will incorporate observations, requests and comments from listening sessions, which have drawn over 500 attendees statewide and close to 1,500 senior needs surveys returned to date.

To complete the 29-question survey by the January 15 deadline, go to https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NHSPOASurvey.

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Roberta Baker would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at rbaker@unionleader.com or (603) 206-1514. This series is funded through a grant from the Endowment for Health.