In the last month, 62-year-old “Pete” and 63-year-old “Joe” died in the local homes where they’d lived for decades. In that, they were like lots of Mainers. Maine has the highest median age of any state in the US and almost all of us prefer to “age in place.”

What made “Pete” and “Joe” different is that their homes were group residences operated by Independence Association.

Independence Association was founded in Brunswick more than 50 years ago to assist people with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD) in enjoying full lives as members of their chosen communities. Since 1966, the agency has grown to serve some 400 people in nine Maine counties.

Those clients include residents of 14 staffed homes and two supported apartment buildings in Brunswick, Durham, Topsham, Bath and Freeport. Nearly a third of the residents are aged 60 and older. And their “aging in place” is becoming mission-critical for Independence Association.

When Independence Association was founded, medical issues prevented most people with IDDs from living beyond their early 40s. The agency’s housing stock reflects that expectation. Many residences are typical Maine multi-story homes. These residences work well when clients are mobile, but become less appropriate as clients age.

Residences that have been built for Independence Association in the last decade are constructed to “universal design” standards. These single-level homes provide halls and doors wide enough for walkers and wheelchairs, easy-to-use lever-style door handles, and roll-in bathing.

But even these are inadequate to support people with serious mobility limitations. These adults require assistance to move from a chair to a bed, from a commode to a chair. Keeping clients and staff safe requires the use of various lifting and moving devices.

Built-in lifts are more typical of long-term care facilities than residences. But long-term care facilities are not prepared to serve adults with serious intellectual disabilities. Their staff aren’t trained for it. Moreover, our clients — even more than other older adults — are vulnerable to serious decline when removed from familiar settings. Think about how hard it was to find your favorite items after your last move. Then imagine trying to recall what drawer or cabinet held them if you had an intellectual disability as well.

That’s why Independence Association is transitioning its facilities to accommodate long-term care needs. “Pete” had lived together in the same community, with the same five friends, since the State of Maine closed the state institution where they previously lived. For “Pete” and “Joe” and other IDD friends to experience meaningful lives in their chosen communities requires Independence Association to provide the kind of residential continuity that supports and enhances their abilities. We are committed to that level of service.

Thanks to a grant from The United Way of Mid Coast Maine, Independence Association installed Prism lifts in its Topsham program center last year. These ceiling-mounted mobility devices provide security and dignity when clients need help moving rapidly to a commode, as one example. We have installed several other lifts in single-story residences to accommodate the immediate need of aging individuals who live in those homes.

In the next five to 10 years, Independence Association has set the ambitious goal of making all of its housing appropriate for adults with IDD who want to age in place. That will require:

 Installing lifts in existing residences

 Converting existing single-story buildings into residences with installed lifts

 Constructing new single-level residences with installed lifts

The costs for installing lifts is not covered by state reimbursements for services to adults with IDD. The lack of funding for these upgrades make it difficult for agencies serving these adults to adequately prepare for their aging.

At Independence Association, we have many clients we have served for decades. The residences we operate are both home and “family” to them. To remain in their homes is important both because it dignifies their desire, and because in their familiar homes, they are able to function at their highest capabilities. We are committed to them and their long-term success, in the homes and among the people they love.

When five local families founded Independence Association in 1966, they went door to door and business to business asking for the funds essential “to do what’s right by our children.”

Now that those children – and many more – are becoming older adults, Independence Association still needs community support “to do what’s right” by the people we serve.

If you have questions about aging in place at Independence Association, or would like to donate to aging in place initiatives at Independence Association, contact Carlene Byron at [email protected], (207) 504-5822 or visit independenceassociation.org/donate.

For information about residential services at Independence Association, contact Alli Vercoe at [email protected], (207) 504-5839.

Giving voice Giving Voice is a weekly collaboration among four local non-profit service agencies to share information and stories about their work in our community.

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