It all started with a dog

screen-shot-2016-09-08-at-8-00-04-am My husband and I were empty nesters, as the family dog died 5 years ago. I was constantly bugged to get another dog, which I was quite uncertain about, but I decided if I did, I would get him trained to be a Therapy Dog and we would be good citizens and volunteer.  My life has changed by that single decision.

Buddy, our cockapoo rescue was a fun dog. He passed all his tests and became an official Therapy Dog. We visited hosptials, nursing homes, rehab centers, assisted living places and independent senior housing.

There is an old adage that you only know what you know. What I discovered is that there is an ever growing, large population of elder citizens in Brevard County,  half of which suffer from Dementia or Alzheimers.  They sit mindlessly in different arrangements and for the most part they are safe and there are kind people who take care of them.

The other half of the population have old age as their common diagnosis with some variations, but their minds are present.  When Buddy and I would walk into a situation where their were various elders just sitting along the wall, their eyes would light up when we came by. We stopped and I chatted while they pet the dog. I saw the light in their eyes of the person they once were. When we left, they went back to just sitting.

I found that these elders with clear minds were all suffering from a lack of purpose and a disconnect from their former lives and their former homes. It broke my heart. I was only one woman with a dog.

I left a nursing home one afternoon and was driving up US 1.  I remember passing FIT and thinking ‘there must be a better way”.  It didn’t take me too long to find out that there is a better way which provides the necessary paradgigm shift for the way we care for our elders.

The U.S. population age 65 and over is expected to double in size within the next 25 years. By 2030, almost 1-out-of-5 Americans, some 72 million people will be 65 years or older. The age group 85 and older is now the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population.

At the same time that we are as a society are having to deal with this  population, we are changing in another way. More than 50% of the world’s population is currently made up of people 30 years old or younger. By 2017, Millennials will represent the majority in terms of purchasing power, and by 2025, they will be the majority of the workforce.

These Millenials are all starting their families and in many cases both parents work or if the couple is economically lucky, one stays home to care for the children. Many children spend their early years out of necessity in day care situations. And that will only increase as time goes on.

One solution is Intergenerational Care Centers that have been in existance in some places for more than 20 years. Intergenerational Programs are social vehicles that offer younger and older generations the opportunities to interact and become engaged in issues concerning our society. These programs purposefully bring together people of different generations in ongoing, mutually beneficial, planned activities, designed to achieve specified program goals. Through intergenerational programs people of all ages share their talents and resources, supporting each other in relationships that benefit both the individuals and the community. Successful program are based on reciprocity, are sustained and intentional, and involve education and preparation for all ages. Young and old are viewed as assets, not problems to be solved.

In my opinion, it is a travesty to keep elders with mental decline in the same facility with those who are mentally acute. It happens around here because often times there is no other solution.

Currently in Brevard County, assisted living expenses run from $3000 to $7000 a month.  Many elders never recovered from the 2008 economic decline and are stuck in a challenging situation. There are many elders living home alone and their only stimulation is ‘meals on wheels’ or television. Other elders are living with their family but as they age into their 80’s and 90’s they need more care and that creates a problem for the working children.

A group of concerned citizens have started a grassroots project to build Brevard County’s first Intergenerational Care Center in Viera, Florida.

Space Coast Ingergen, Inc. is a 501 C 3 organization whose mision is to provide the community with a safe, healthy, creative space in a beautiful building to be built  on a wooded lot in Viera. For more information visit. http://spacecoastintergen.org

Somehow we have to get older people back close to growing children if we are to restore a sense of community, a knowledge of the past, and a sense of the future.” 

~ Margaret Mead

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