Magazine article Policy & Practice

Authentic Voice

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Authentic Voice

Article excerpt

Older adults, striving for dignity and choice, wish to grow old in their own home as comfortably, and for as long as possible. But many times they don't have this choice due to lack of access to the right supports available in their community.

The answer to older adults successfully aging in place may reside in connecting them to peers who understand both the community culture and the neighborhood, and who are trained by local nonprofits to provide companionship and link them to integral social services.

A research project led by the University of Wisconsin (UW)- Madison that involves older adults in three communities is currently studying this very concept, attempting to clearly document one effective way to help older adults age in place.

The UW-Madison project, Effectiveness of Peer-to-Peer Community Support to Promote Aging in Place, is funded with a $2.1 million contract from the PatientCentered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI). UW-Madison is partnering with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Evaluation and Research Department and the Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building and three community-based, nonprofit organizations that are members of the Alliance network.

The model the team is evaluating involves nonprofit social service organizations using trained community members over the age of 55 to engage other older adults in a manner that results in tangible social and physical supports that make it possible for older adults to age in place. Over three years, hundreds of older adults who are receiving support will participate in the research, allowing them to inform both this project and future policy and practice about how and where they age.

Explains Laura Pinsoneault, former director of evaluation and research services for the Center for Engagement and Neighborhood Building, "By engaging these individuals on their own turf with a person they know and trust, we will establish the research to understand what can contribute to better health outcomes that may allow them to age in place. They must know that they are trusted as the absolute experts of what they need."

According to Dr. Elizabeth Jacobs, professor of medicine and population health sciences for the UW- Madison Department of Population Health Sciences, "We are asking and answering, 'How do we take the strengths of what already exists and build up supports so that people can age in place and do not end up in the emergency room, hospital, or nursing home too soon?

PLANNING AND PREPARATION

The three nonprofit, communitybased organizations-Alpert Jewish Family and Children's Service (AJFCS) in West Palm Beach, Florida; The Community Place of Greater Rochester New York; and Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles-are established providers of older adult services in their communities and have embedded authentic voice into their entire practice.

After recruiting older adults who not only want to give back in a positive way, but also know about the neighborhoods where they will engage their peers, the organizations provide intensive training. This involves preparing them to focus on the types of cultural competencies necessary to effectively go into the community and engage their neighbors.

At Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles, the older adults recruited to work on the project are called peer companions and are ensuring authentic voice. "The peer companions are actually in an excellent place to translate and transmit the voice of the consumer since the relationship is a more equal one," says Paul Castro, president and CEO of Jewish Family Service of Los Angeles. "During supervision sessions, peer companions often express the challenges and concerns faced by the people they visit and thus their voices are heard as well."

In fact, the peer training goes both ways, with older adult peers helping the organization further the research. Jenni Frumer, CEO of AJFCS, says, "These individuals engage their peers in a way that will ultimately help us to understand the relationship of peers in the life of older adults and the effectiveness of these relationships to aging in place. …

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