The mission of the United Way of Tarrant County Area Agency on Aging (AAA) is to improve the quality of life for older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers by raising awareness of unmet needs, advocating for and connecting individuals to resources, forming community partnerships and providing exemplary services.
Every May, AAA participates in Older Americans Month, hosted by the Administration for Community Living (ACL). This year’s theme is “Age My Way,” which focuses on how older adults can plan to stay in their homes and live independently in their communities for as long as possible.
Deputy Director Brian Lee gave us some insight into AAA’s services and a snapshot of what aging in America looks like today.
Q: What does AAA do?
Brian: The Area Agency on Aging’s focus is to help older adults and their caregivers live happier, safer lives. We accomplish this goal by partnering with a diverse group of community organizations that share our mission of serving our parents and grandparents.
Q: What are the essential resources AAA provides?
Brian: We desire to see people live safely at home longer. Many of our programs are geared for that mission. A few of the services we offer include home modification, such as adding grab bars, handrails and ramps to improve mobility at home; assistance with utility payments through our income support program; cutting-edge evidence-based fall prevention programs, rigorously tested and adapted to fit an older adult’s lifestyle; in-home and out-of-home respite care services for caregivers; and an ombudsman program comprised of courageous advocates who protect the rights of residents in nursing homes and other long-term care settings.
Q: How does AAA go above and beyond for older adults in Tarrant County?
Brian: For more than two decades, I have worked in elder care service organizations across the country, and from what I’ve witnessed, what sets us apart is our team—our volunteers and staff. We are blessed to be surrounded by some of the brightest, most dedicated people I’ve ever met. They are experts in their field who know their jobs, and who’ve developed the right relationships with the right people to get things done. Their professionalism is second to none, but it’s their compassion, their love for what they do, and their desire to help is unlike any I’ve ever known. We have amazing people who go the extra mile every day because it’s the right thing, and they care about our neighbors in our communities.
Q: What are the benefits and challenges of older adults remaining in their homes versus living in a facility?
Brian: According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the benefits of aging at home include having the comforts of them being in their own homes and community and having family members reside as caretakers. Older adults can remain better connected to their spiritual and religious activities. Also, it’s usually half of the cost of living in a residential care facility.
The challenges of older adults remaining in their homes include limited access to their healthcare providers and not having around-the-clock medical attention. Caregiver burnout can quickly occur due to the hard labor and demand it often requires.
Q: How has COVID changed the landscape of aging at home versus a living facility?
Brian: Nursing homes were hammered by COVID. The first reports of a COVID outbreak on America’s shores occurred in a Washington nursing home. And from there, it only escalated. We quickly discovered that nursing home residents were highly susceptible to the virus and that drastic steps were needed to safeguard their health. Lockdowns were instituted to prevent the virus from entering buildings, but those lockdowns seemed only to exacerbate the pandemic’s painfulness. Families became frustrated and argued that isolating their loved ones took as much toll on the residents as the virus ever did.
Texas lawmakers heard their outcry and ensured that visitation rights for residents and families would never be restricted, even during a pandemic. The pandemic would have been much worse for nursing homes if it had not been for the heroic efforts of the employees that kept residents safe. Many sacrificed their lives in doing so. We owe them a tremendous debt.
Q: How does aging in America look different today than it did 20 years ago?
Brian: The aging landscape has become much more favorable to consumers through an explosion of options that weren’t there 20 years ago. Gone are the days when people grew older and were expected to move into a retirement facility when they could no longer care for themselves.
We’ve developed a continuum of care that begins at home and incorporates institutional assistance when needed. Improved technology, better healthcare, concentrated funding and exceptionally trained social service professionals have put our parents and grandparents back in the driver’s seat when deciding how and where they want to live their lives. And we need to keep building around that paradigm, where decision-making and lifestyle choices are the prerogative of our loved ones through customized services that fit their needs.
As the landscape of aging continues to evolve, AAA is dedicated to examining the highest needs of the older adult community in Tarrant County and working to improve their quality of life so they can thrive independently. If you or a loved one are in need of support or access to our services, please visit https://www.unitedwaytarrant.org/aaatc/.