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(Not) Alone

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Local seniors find benefits, drawbacks and resources from living independently

By Corinne Westeman

Sitting in her living room, Carolyn C. Ward, 89, is surrounded by ceramic figurines, pictures and collectibles of Beatrix Potter’s characters, antiques, books and photos of her family members and friends. In short, it looks very much like a typical grandmother’s living room.

Ward and her husband built their house on Floyd Hill in the 70s, she said, as they were both interested in carpentry. Since then, Ward and her family have passed much of their lives in their home.

In later years, though, it has been Ward alone. Granted, family members and friends visit on occasion, but since her husband died 16 years ago, she has been on her own.

“For me alone, it’s perfect,” Ward said of her home. “You can’t sit in a chair and watch the world go by anymore.”

Ward is only one of the thousands of seniors who live alone in the mountain community.

Ward attributes her mostly independent lifestyle to her good health, sharp mind, and the help she receives from her family, friends, neighbors, and the Seniors’ Resource Center in Evergreen.

According to Bonnie Mitchek, care manager at SRC, the center serves approximately 4,600 seniors across Jefferson, Clear Creek, Gilpin and Park counties. The majority of their clients, she said, live alone in their homes, like Ward.

Mitchek commented that she and her colleagues encounter hundreds of seniors who want to maintain their independence and privacy, and don’t want to have to leave their homes to move to an assisted living facility.

“The majority of (seniors) want to be home as long as they can — it’s what they know and they have their things around them, and giving that up is pretty hard,” Mitchek said. “They want their lives to continue as they’ve always known it.”

Ward, for instance, said that she doesn’t want to move to an assisted living facility, commenting, “I want to die right here in this house.”

While living alone can be freeing for some senior citizens, Mitchek said there can be major drawbacks for their physical and mental health and safety.

“Isolation is huge, especially if someone has lost their spouse,” she continued. “And transportation is tough. You always want somebody keeping an eye on their health overall, especially those who have dementia or Alzheimer’s. And of course, there’s always risk of falling, especially while bathing or at night.”

Ward, though, described herself as being “very active and able-bodied.” She drives herself anywhere she needs to go; she attends balance classes; she paints, makes pottery, quilts, writes, reads, and does puzzles; and she has plenty of friends and family to call and check on.

“I don’t need companionship,” she said. “I never get lonely or bored. I’m busy all the time. I’ve always got a project going.”

And, she always has her cell phone on her, in case something goes wrong, she added.

However, Ward said that she does sometimes worry about her health and future.

For instance, she recently went to have her driver’s license renewed, and discovered that her eyesight had become much worse. However, she went to the doctor and got a stronger prescription. Still, she said, it was worrying, because she had been going about her daily life and hadn’t noticed the change.

Even so, Ward said she and her peers have to keep their minds active and not become to discouraged.

“Too many of my friends always tell me, ‘I can’t do that because I’m old’ — they just have to try and work on their mental and physical well-being,” she continued. “The way I am is the way I was raised — I try not to baby myself; I try to learn new things.”

Independence, Assistance

As welcome morning light dances through the windows, Ward goes through the mental Rolodex, describing where all her eight children, 10 grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren live and what they do.

She talks about how she was raised by her grandparents on a farm near Ellinwood, Kan., how she raised her children in Denver’s Park Hill neighborhood, and how much she dislikes the new Windows 10 update.

“Technology has caused so many seniors to draw back,” Ward continued. “You have to keep up with the times, but it’s hard for seniors to do that. Don’t think that you can’t do it because you can. You have to cross the technological barrier and find people to help you on your level.”

While Ward feels comfortable using a computer, for the most part, other household tasks — such as shampooing the carpets and yard work — can be problematic. That’s when she reached out to the SRC, she noted.

“I wanted to stay in the community and not bother my family,” Ward said.

In addition to helping with chores, Mitchek said the SRC can help seniors with financial assistance, mental health counseling, in-home care, Meals on Wheels, transportation, technology training, a day program and several other services.

She noted that seniors might need to financially qualify for some aid, but not all.

Mitchek added that “everything is going to get busier across the board,” as more Baby Boomers become senior citizens.

“The silver tsunami is coming: most of (the aging Baby Boomers) want to live in their own homes, and we want to allow that to happen, if that’s their choice,” Mitchek said. “Aging can be a hard transition for them.”

Ward offered one final piece of advice to seniors, especially those who live alone.

“You have to have tomorrow planned, and only anticipate good things not bad; you have to have a routine, and you have to work at it,” she said. “You have to tell yourself, ‘I deserve a good and simple life.’”