Alaska—March, 3, 2017 - Advocates for the disability community of Alaska will soon be descending on the Capital in an effort to make sure that Alaskan lawmakers don't forget them. For the thirtieth year in a row the Key Coalition, families and individuals who experience disabilitiies, and provider agencies will be making their voices heard across the state. The priorities this year, known as the Four P's, can be read about in detail here. This message will carry through each region in Alaska that participates in the Key Campaign.
For specific information on how you can get involved in the Juneau Rally, please check out the Key Coalition website here.
For specific information on the Anchorage Rally please see the event details here.
The Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority in partnership with the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, Alaska Association on Developmental Disabilities, and Senior and Disabilities Services developed a shared vision to guide systems reform for Alaska’s developmental disabilities system. Click here for the exciting results of this collaboration.
Anchorage—January 2017 - The growth trend in the aging population suggests that increasing numbers of Alaskans are rapidly becoming seniors at a pace that may exceed service capacity. Across Alaska and the nation, life expectancy has also increased substantially for people experiencing intellectual and developmental disabilities.
As Alaskans with disabilities are living longer, service provider agencies across the state are looking for ways to support seniors of all abilities. Although it has been stated that older adults present unique public health challenges and may become vulnerable to malnutrition or placement in care facilities, Alaska’s senior population also provides rich information on the opportunities for healthy aging through strong social relationships, community involvement, and a sense of purpose.
By keeping seniors integrated into the fabric of society as they age, all Alaskans are well suited to make sure that our older adults age healthfully and to delay the need for assisted living.
What seniors said
To discover the healthy aging needs of seniors in Anchorage, we have conducted two separate qualitative studies (one in 2014 and one in 2015) to find out more about how Alaskan seniors view their opportunities for a good quality of life. The research questions explored four topic areas of healthy aging: (1) nutrition, exercise, and general health; (2) meaningful social relationships; (3) community inclusion and involvement; and (4) the need to feel a sense of purpose.
Twenty-one seniors were interviewed, 9 men and 12 women, aged 60 to 87 years old. Participants included white, black, Asian and Alaska Native elders, and interviews lasted between 28 and 101 minutes. Nine significant themes that emerged from these discussions include: community involvement and inclusion; personal values and freedoms; sense of purpose and sharing talents; social relationships; cultural identity and the importance of local foods; spirituality and faith; financial resources; physical limitations; and death/dying/disease.
People with strong social networks tend to be healthier. They get more physical activity and have a healthier diet, through the support, encouragement and companionship with friends and family. This was especially true for our Anchorage participants, where older adults with strong social supports reported that they eat with and engage in activities with their friends during the day, resulting in a generally positive influence on each other.
‘Edna,’ an active 72-year-old woman, said “it is a social thing. I’m not one to just exercise at home alone. I’ve done it, but it’s not something that you can do on a regular basis. It’s not fun. I want to enjoy it. I think exercise is fun, it feels good.”
‘Gilbert,’ a 72-year-old, retired schoolteacher said that he would be more active, “if I had a physical activity partner. They guy that lives down the street has a good bicycle. I mean, I would bike with him...”
Gilbert is a friendly and social man, seeking out nearly anyone he can find to show pictures of his grandkids; however, he has had limited success interacting with neighbors and the Anchorage community.
Family ties are also important to the healthy aging of Alaskans. ‘Kyung,’ a 67-year-old married, retired man from Korea, reports that the social relationship with his wife regarding food is more important than its nutritional value, “Because I’m not looking for food; I’m looking for my relationships. So I’m thinking about more relationship than food. So [some] food I do by myself, you know, standing [in the] kitchen by myself or eating my own thing…but most time with my wife. My wife cook[s] very well.”
‘Nolee’ has strong family supports all over the state of Alaska. She has many relatives that live in Anchorage and nearby towns, where she eats with family at least once per week. Because she was raised on a traditional subsistence lifestyle, she also relies on her family members who live in rural Alaska to provision her with “fish, caribou, moose, ptarmigan, you know, a lot of berries: salmonberries, blueberries, raspberries” from her family members who live in outlying areas. Her family in Nome, Dillingham and McGrath get her seal oil and watermelon berries in exchange for fresh fruit from the markets in Anchorage that they cannot obtain in rural Alaska.
“It’s a bartering system,” she reports. She says these food items are meaningful for her when they get together as a family. She stated, “we always have smoked fish, we always have fish pie, you know that’s part of the way we grew up.”
Nolee says that these foods are not just a supplement to her diet, but these Alaskan foods are culturally meaningful to her, another common thread among Anchorage participants. Friends and family are able to positively influence healthy aging patterns through support, encouragement, and companionship, especially in diverse populations of seniors.
The results of these two studies reveal that there are ample opportunities for the community to engage with seniors to ensure their healthy aging, since friends, family, cultural identity, social support and community inclusion are important factors for older adults in Alaska.
Taking care of each other and ourselves
By utilizing community resources to ensure inclusion for all Alaskans, we are able to reduce some of the caregiver burden. Extended family members, primarily women, often provide the majority of supports for older adults, while trying to balance the many demands of their career and nuclear family. The average caregiver is female, 55 years old, and provides support with transportation to appointments, chores, medication administration, medical tasks, shopping, managing finances, among other errands, often modifying her own work schedule to meet these demands. Ensuring healthy aging and community inclusion of seniors helps to reduce the workload of the caregiving segment of our population.
In addition, taking care of our seniors now makes good fiscal sense. The financial climate Alaskans now face includes dramatically changing economic concerns with the tremendous fall of oil revenues, the potential loss of the PFD, and tighter budgetary constraints. These economic shifts will encompass many areas of the broader community, but our most vulnerable populations such as seniors and the disabled, will likely feel the greatest impacts of budget cuts. Including seniors in social activities, church communities, local events, and making sure we all feel a daily sense of purpose can delay or reduce the need to rely on expensive senior services.
Seniors are not the only ones who benefit from such community inclusion. By integrating intergenerational segments of the population, other research has also found that children and adolescents benefit from having positive elder role models. Such intergenerational relationships increase children’s sense of self, purpose, security, and joy as much as it does for their elderly counterparts.
Social interactions between the young and older adults has also been shown to result in greater emotional and social intelligence, increased skills and knowledge, and even strengthened immune systems and reduced stress for both older and younger individuals.
Public health initiatives to address healthy aging usually include health education, weight management and nutrition, promotion of health behaviors, and increased health screenings. However, we can all play a part in boosting the health and quality of life of our seniors. Inviting older adults to share meals, engage in physical activities, and spend time with community members not only increases happiness and a sense of purpose for seniors, but such community inclusion efforts can improve the quality of life for all Alaskans.
Britteny M. Howell, MA, ABD is the coordinator of research and development for Hope Community Resources. She sits on the Anchorage ADA Advisory Commission, the Alaska Humanities Forum, and the Alaska Aging and Disability Coalition. She is currently finishing her PhD in anthropology and gerontology at the University of Kentucky. Margaret Grasse is a Registered Nurse and works at Hope as a community health nurse. She recently completed the Leadership Certificate in Business Management program from Wayland Baptist University
Anchorage—December 2016 - The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services together with the Alaska Department of Revenue announced today the successful launch of the Alaska ABLE Plan, a program to encourage individuals to invest money on behalf of eligible persons with a disability or blindness.
Alaska’s Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) program allows for eligible persons with a disability or blindness to open tax-advantaged investment accounts. Similar to a 529 college saving account, earnings in these funds are tax-free if used for qualified disability-related expenses, such as education, transportation and assistive technology.
Presently, persons with a disability are limited to a $2,000 cap on assets in order to receive their federal means tested benefits. ABLE allows eligible persons with a disability or blindness to save for qualified expenses without putting their federal benefits at risk.
“The launch of the Alaska ABLE Plan prior to year-end will allow families to place up to $14,000 in savings in 2016 without jeopardizing their eligibility for benefits such as SSI and Medicaid,” said Patrick Reinhart, executive director of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education. “Our understanding is the website is very easy to navigate.”
Alaska participated in a competitive bidding process with eleven states and selected Ascensus College Savings of Newton, Mass. to administer the program.
“We are thrilled to launch the program less than 5 months after legislation was signed into law. I credit the success of the launch with the dedication of the states participating in the National ABLE Alliance working with Ascensus to provide the disability community an ABLE investment product that offers multiple financial options at low cost,” said Alaska State Treasurer Pam Leary.
The direct-sold plans are currently available at ak.savewithable.com
Alaska—December 2016 - Washington State University, Department of Psychology student Rebecca Glover is conducting a research study on the experience of parenting a child with Autism Spectum Disorder (ASD). She is recruiting parents of children disagnosed with ASD to complete a longitudinal study about their experiences of parenting for her master's thesis. Please contact Rebecca Glover at Rebecca.firstname.lastname@example.org if you're interested in participating or would like more information. Informational flyer.
Anchorage, AK—September 2016 - Hope recently received a $200,000 grant from the Reitman Family Trust towards the site preparation of its intentional neighborhood that will be located in Sterling. The money will help move the project closer to the construction phase, which is planned for spring of 2017.
Six units are planned for the neighborhood and will house a dozen residents who may have physical and intellectual disabilities, or a combination of both. “There are a group of people who really want to belong and be a part of something a little bit bigger than themselves and who want to share a life and an address,” said Roy Scheller, Executive Director of Hope.
Why an intentional neighborhood? One of the most common issues amongst families who have a child with an intellectual disability is what happens to their child when they are gone. An intentional neighborhood offers families a wider array of options that are currently not available in the state for individuals who experience intellectual disabilities. An intentional neighborhood offers families security and the knowledge that they are surrounded by other people with like interests and the understanding of the challenges associated with living with a disability. Traditional housing supports for people who experience intellectual disabilities tend to offer limited options with little or no long-term security.
The Sterling neighborhood will reflect the rural, farming culture similarly lived by many Kenai Peninsula residents. There are plans to develop walking trails, raise animals, keep beehives, grow produce and sell any surplus to peninsula residents.
Currently there are three families committed to living in the neighborhood. Hope is seeing additional individuals and families who may be interested in this type of living environment. Anyone interested in the project and wanting more information should contact Hope’s Executive Director, Roy Scheller at email@example.com or call 907-561-5335.
STAR Program Ends - June 2016
Hope Closes South East Offices - September 2016
Luncheon Honors Awesome People - September 2016
New Community Center Opens in Soldotna - August 2015