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Q & A: LifeSpan president talks future of senior care

Q & A: LifeSpan president talks future of senior care
Isabella Firth

We all get older, that's a certainty, but as a community we're getting older too: By 2030, it's projected that more than a quarter of Maryland's population will be age 60 or older.

That's according to Isabella Firth, president of the LifeSpan Network, the largest professional association of senior care providers in the mid-Atlantic region. LifeSpan offers support and education to senior care professionals in nursing home and assisted living settings, among others, including Carroll County facilities such as Integrace Copper Ridge, in Sykesville, and Brightview Senior Living in Westminster.

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The Times recently caught up with Firth to discuss our aging population and some of the trends and changes in senior care.

Q: You're president of the LifeSpan Network. Could you explain what LifeSpan does and how your work affects people in Carroll County?

A: LifeSpan is the largest association of senior care organizations in Maryland. We support senior care professionals by providing them education, information and advocating for them in Annapolis. We help the nurses, managers and others who care for seniors in your county.

Q: The country, and Carroll County, are aging. What does that demographic trend mean for senior care?

A: Of the nearly 5.8 million people in Maryland in 2015, 18.35 percent were age 60 or over. This percentage is expected to increase to 25.4 percent of Maryland's projected population of 6.7 million by the year 2030. Individuals age 80 to 84 are the fastest-growing segment of the senior population in Maryland. Carroll County's 60-plus population is expected to grow by 56 percent over the next 15 years.

Q: The type of senior care people want is also changing, with many retiring boomers preferring to age in place. Can you talk about some of the new, alternative types of care for our aging population?

A: There are a number of interesting new directions in senior care. There's the Green House Project which re-envisions how nursing homes should be designed; there is the Village movement, which is a grass roots movement sprouting up around the country, driven by people who want to organize their own senior care supports and services within their existing communities. There's also the Pioneer network which seeks to change the overly institutional culture of senior care.

Q: Senior care, like health care, can change significantly under a new presidential administration. What uncertainties are there about senior care during the next four years and what are organizations such as LifeSpan doing to prepare for change and deal with that uncertainty?

A: Well, it's still too soon to tell what the new President and Congress will be able to agree on regarding entitlement programs that help pay for senior care (Medicare, Medicaid). We hope those programs will remain intact! We also don't know how much of the Affordable Care Act will be altered, which also impacts senior care. LifeSpan has been actively supporting improving care coordination between doctors, hospitals and senior care organizations. There's much work to do to make it better!

Q: In general, what are the things people should know or ask about an assisted living facility, nursing home, home health care arrangement or other forms of senior care when making plans for themselves or a loved one?

A: I encourage people to take the time to personally tour and meet with the professionals at these organizations, ask questions, and find out what they offer in terms of services. Carroll County is fortunate to have many excellent senior care organizations to choose from. If possible, advance planning is worth the investment of your time. It's always better to understand your options when you are not in the middle of a crisis.

Q: What's something people don't usually understand or know about senior care that you wish was more widely known?

A: That this field is brimming with wonderful, caring professionals. People who go above and beyond to care for our seniors.

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