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VOL. 39 | NO. 4 | Friday, January 23, 2015

Home services keep seniors independent

By Ellen Margulies

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An Evermind monitoring system plugs into the wall (no Internet service required) and alerts loved ones if a relative’s power usages drop from their routine levels.

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Sooner or later, most people end up caring for aging mothers and fathers or become seniors themselves, wondering who to turn to when independent daily living becomes impossible.

Both propositions are frightening and stressful.

The reality is, the safety nets set in place by the government and even private insurance, to the extent you can afford it, aren’t always enough.

With Medicare, which most U.S. citizens and permanent residents can get when they turn 65, many medical needs are met. But there’s no assistance for meals, laundry or help with bathing or dressing. Even when home health care is covered, non-medical needs aren’t.

That’s where private services come in. From high dollar to surprisingly affordable, the senior services home market can provide for virtually any need.

Companion care and more

When his own family members were growing older and in increasingly ill health, Andrew Scruggs learned first-hand about the gap between medical and non-medical needs. He also found out what happens when caregivers get overwhelmed. That’s what led him to start his own business in the Knoxville area, Always Best Care Senior Services.

“I’ve lived in Knoxville all my life and didn’t know where to turn, and I thought, ‘there are a lot of people just like me,’” Scruggs says.

Always Best Care offers everything from bathing and toileting to meal prep and companionship, with services averaging about $18 per hour. Depending on someone’s needs, that means plans can be tailored for their budgets. The cost is similar at Nurse Next Door in Middle Tennessee, according to Nashville franchise owner Greg Salkind.

Nurse Next Door provides both non-medical assistance and full-time skilled nursing care in the home. As people are living longer, Salkind says, they do need services more and more.

“They don’t have the same ability to take care of themselves, yet overall they might be somewhat healthy,” Salkind explains. “We can provide them with the support they need in their homes.”

Scruggs agrees that demand will continue. “We have 10,000 baby boomers who turn 65 every day,” he says. “There will always be a need for our types of service. The question is, are people preparing for this one way or another financially?” says Scruggs. “It’s not on some people’s radars yet.”

Meal delivery

Meals on Wheels is a nationwide nonprofit program that is synonymous with helping seniors in need, but in Knoxville, the Mobile Meals program has no income requirement — and no charge for the services.

“Cooking is one of those things that, when you get older and frailer, just falls by the wayside,” says Susan Long, director of the Community Action Committee Office on Aging.

Mobile Meals provides one hot meal a day Monday through Friday, based on a menu created by a nutritionist and prepared in a commercial kitchen. They rely on 75 volunteers a day to deliver about 825 meals. Without the volunteers, Long says, they could only provide half as many meals.

“For most of our people, the human contact with someone every day is almost as important as that meal,” she says. “Someone going into that home and making sure you’re ok is important. Our staff does not go home at night until every one of those 825 people are accounted for.”

When no one’s there

Dave Gilbert’s 97-year-old grandmother, who lives on her own, puts on her heels and lipstick every day. Just don’t ask her to accessorize with a medical alert device.

A new kind of in-home service for seniors is emerging that can be added to – or used in lieu of – medical alert services. Nashville-based Evermind monitors daily power usage and sends texts or emails to loved ones if there’s a dip indicating someone’s routine is off kilter.

“In the monitoring space for independent living, there are a few companies before us,” says Gilbert, co-founder of Nashville-based Evermind. “Most of them, however, have systems that are much more complex and often require professional installation.”

The Evermind device simply plugs into a wall and uses a built-in cell phone modem, so the household doesn’t even have to have internet service. Evermind charges $199 for the device and $29 a month for monitoring.

Although Evermind is not a replacement for a medical alert system, it works well in tandem with one.

As Gilbert points out, by the time someone pushes an emergency response button, “they’re already in crisis. We let caregivers know every day that the person is in their routine. We give peace of mind every day. If that person starts to move out of their routine in a way that suggests impending crisis, the caregiver can intervene before there would be reason to press a button.”

Evermind, a startup that grew out of Nashville’s Griffin Technology, began in 2012 at Nashville’s Jumpstart Foundry, and as of last November, had raised $2.6 million as reported to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

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