Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Ageing or Aging?

[It’s not just the way we spell the word that’s different when it comes to looking after old people.
In almost every country of the world, the proportion of people aged over 60 years is growing faster than any other age group, as a result of both longer life expectancy and declining fertility rates.

But across the Atlantic they handle matters very differently from the UK when it comes to dealing with issues faced by the elderly.

Here in the UK, we have private organisations like the Centre for Policy on Ageing http://www.cpa.org.uk/ and charities like Age Concern http://www.ageconcern.org.uk/and Help the Aged http://www.helptheaged.org.uk/ which have recently decided to work together. There is no Government ministerial involvement, although a year ago the broadcaster and writer Dame Joan Bakewell was appointed an unpaid champion of the elderly by the government. And in July this year Health Secretary Andy Burnham unveiled proposals to set up a new National Care Service to help cope with the UK’s ageing population.

In the USA the Government has been accustomed to taking a more hands-on approach, with its Federal agency, the Administration on Aging, responsible for advancing the concerns and interests of older people and their carers.

Run by the Department of Health & Human Services, the AoA, set up in 1965 following the passing of the Older Americans Act (OAA), has its own website at http://www.aoa.gov/ In addition there is the National Council on Aging http://www.ncoa.org/ a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC.

US town administrations like those on Cape Cod have for many years had their own Councils on Aging with Executive Directors. Brewster’s is currently advertising the vacant post of Director for its COA to manage the operations of the Town’s Senior Center and programmes for approx. 3,650 older people and residents with disabilities. A salary of between $43,940.99 and $57,121.43 with benefits is on offer.

In the following article, Jean Sears, (pictured right), Brewster’s retiring COA Director, looks back on 29 years of service.]

Jean Sears retires as Brewster COA director

Jean Sears is retiring as director of Brewster’s Council on Aging but she isn’t going far, just next door. Sears has lived next to Brewster’s old town hall, which is now the council on aging building, since 1950.

“We moved here when I was 10 years old, from Hingham, and bought the big house next door,” she recalled. “At that point there were 13 acres out back and my parents made it a campground, Shady Knoll Campground.”

Sears and her husband, Henry, an ex-Brewster firefighter, live there now. Their three children, William and Paul Sears, and Melody Woods, all live in town with six grandsons so she’ll be busy and will continue to volunteer at the COA. Her husband is the bus driver, the very position Jean started with at the COA 29 years ago, in 1980.

“Then I started in outreach and right away took over as director because the person moved on,” she noted.

It was a quick rise to the top but she’s always loved the job.

“There’ve been a lot of changes, a lot more people needing a lot more care,” she explained. “We’ve made the council a friendly place. There’s a little shed out back full of medical supplies and people come here on a daily basis to borrow them.”

Sears and her husband ran what is now Gill’s Sunoco in Orleans before she took the COA job. The COA was located in what is now the thrift shop at town hall. The current town hall was a community center and the COA ran their programs there.

“We moved into this building in 1987,” Sears said. “When we first moved here I made a commitment to the town that I wanted to make this place feel like home and to this day people come in and say they feel so comfortable here.”

They run three or four exercise programs a day, lunch five days a week, entertainment on Thursdays, card games several days a week and day trips to museums.

“We have the b-bus that brings people here for lunch, takes them shopping, to the post office, doctors’ appointments or the hairdressers. We take over for people when they have to give up driving,” Sears said. “Transportation and home care have always been our two most important projects.”

Sears started an annual cookout and barbecue and has organized an Octoberfest for this fall.

“We also started a St. Patrick’s Day brunch. Henry and I used to cook the whole thing with the girl who worked here. Corned beef and vegetables we’d cut up the night before at home,” she said.

Sears keeps a couple of huge folders full of home care aides information and contact numbers.

“When someone calls and says grandma is coming home from the nursing home and needs 24-hour care, I just fill the places. It’s continuous. Sometimes people call every day of the week,” Sears said.

The council can even provide a driver to Boston, although Sears would like more volunteers.

“I’ve enjoyed this job so much because there’s so much variety,” she reflected. “Every day is different.”

The days will be different now too, and some will still involve the COA.

“I’m going to be working here at least one day a week,” she promised. “What I’ve always liked about work is meeting with the people and helping people. I feel good when I go the bed at night and I’ve helped somebody every day. I go to bed with a clear conscience. That’s why I’ll still keep going to work, I’m so used to being here. Everybody comes in and wants to discuss their problems. I will miss that the most. I know I will.”

But Sears is a dedicated Brewsterite and glad she’s here.

“We were a struggling family when we moved here but had a good time and did a lot of things,” she commented. “I like it because it’s stayed pretty much the same, other than a lot more people. When we first came here there were just 900 people in town. You could go to the post office and know everybody you saw. The post office used to be where The Scoop is now. I used to work there for Donald Doane and he had an old antique cash register and you had to write everything in.”

Now she works on computers.

She hasn’t thought much about her retirement. Her last workday is Aug. 21, and she has five weeks vacation time after that to use up.

“I’m looking forward to staying home with my little dog for a while,” she said. “But I will always keep involved with the COA. I know that because it’s been my life for a long time. I never knew my own parents as seniors because they died young. But a lot of people I dealt with knew them and were friends of my parents."

Text and photo credit: Rich Eldred
Reprinted with permission from The Cape Codder newspaper, Orleans, Massachusetts USA; http://www.wickedlocapecod.com/

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