Writer / Christy Heitger-Ewing
Photographer / Darren Boston
A new national study called the “Community Assessment of Older Adults” was just released that surveyed seniors aged 60 or older to determine how enamored older adults are with their communities. A whopping 97 percent of survey participants in Hendricks County identified their community as an excellent place to retire.
“We are definitely celebrating that,” says Marina Keers, Executive Director of Hendricks County Senior Services (HCSS). In addition, seniors reported that they would recommend Hendricks County to a friend as a good place to live.
“That shows that they love this community enough to want others to join them,” Keers says. “That’s just what we want to hear because our goal is to help our clients live independent, active, creative, fun lives.”
HCSS promotes healthy living by providing a number of support services, engaging activities and effective programming designed to keep people independent for as long as possible. This includes group exercise classes, such as Chair Yoga that attracts roughly 40 seniors per week and exercising programming (they partner with Hendricks Regional Health and IU Health West).
They teach seniors how to prevent falls and build strength because the number one fear of aging adults is that they will be injured in a fall. Staff will go into seniors’ homes and pick up all the rugs and replace burned-out light bulbs. For someone with mobility issues, they might loan out walkers or wheelchairs. All of these things reduce the chance of falling in the home.
The HCSS operates a senior center in Danville that offers a variety of recreational, educational and social opportunities for seniors.
“It’s like a community center but for older adults,” Keers says. “People come play cards, enjoy a cup of coffee, maybe partake in an exercise class then head home for the afternoon.”
While some seniors may drop by the center just once or twice a month, others show up daily because they relish the social time.
“We love to see that because we hate for anyone to feel isolated or alone,” says Keers, noting that this year they have served 5,000 older adults and family caregivers in Hendricks County.
According to Becky Maher, Activities Coordinator at HCSS, community members tell her that the senior center has changed their lives because it gives them a reason to move, get out of the house and meet new friends.
“One person told me that the exercise classes have helped reduce her shoulder pain and improve her walking,” Maher says. “She said that Hendricks County Senior Services is a blessing to the community.”
Four decades ago, when HCSS opened its doors, the number one request from community members was for transportation. People need rides to medical appointments, the grocery store or the barber or beauty shop. Ever since 1978, HCSS has provided the LINK program, the Hendricks County Public Transit system. It’s an ADA-compliant senior-friendly transportation service that shuttles seniors for just $3-$4 a trip.
“We take the frailest individual who needs to go to dialysis multiple times a week to the very vibrant person who perhaps has vision problems that prevent them from driving,” Keers says.
The center operates from the generous support of the community and the users of the program who donate money. Though they sometimes have to charge for supplies or equipment, they try to keep things as affordable as possible so that those who need the services can access them.
HCSS also employs staff and volunteers who help seniors in their homes with services ranging from light housekeeping to assistance with bathing. In addition, they provide support groups for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, vision loss and diabetes that are well attended by family and community members. They even have several trained volunteers who provide free expert consultation to seniors regarding Medicare.
“Many of our seniors have never picked a healthcare plan before because their employer has always done it for them so getting some unbiased advice is very helpful,” Keers says.
In addition, this year, with the help of volunteers, the HCSS completed over 1,000 tax returns during the months of January, February and March.
The HCSS’s mission is to keep seniors as independent for as long as possible. According to Keers, approximately a quarter of older adults in Hendricks County are at risk of premature placement in a nursing home.
“Individuals deserve to live with independence and dignity, and we want to support that,” Keers says. “Plus, from a practical and economic perspective, living independently is the most cost-effective way for society to operate because avoiding nursing home care is saving the support system in our community millions of dollars every year.”
Obviously, caregivers are a critical component in keeping older adults independent for as long as possible. That’s why the HCSS does everything from aiding in transporting someone to their cancer treatment to providing a meal to helping out with cleaning services.
“All of these things help seniors live independently and give caregivers a much-needed break,” Keers says. “One of the biggest risks to premature institutionalization is having a burnt-out caregiver. We want to support that person so they can prolong caregiving.”
Prime Time Expo, the annual summer health fair, is hugely popular, as is their fall flu shot clinic. Folks 60 and over (and their spouses) also flock to the weekday lunches provided through Central Indiana Council on Aging — some days the meals draw upwards of 80 people.
“People enjoy being with others while they dine,” Keers says. “They like getting out and having that network of support and friendship.”
Such camaraderie is one reason Bingo still reigns supreme. Though Keers wondered if people would tire of this age-old game, she’s actually witnessed the opposite trend.
“We’re seeing more and more younger seniors attend Bingo,” she says. “They enjoy the social aspect of it. Plus, who doesn’t like to win?”
Keers feels privileged to be able to work with a team of caring, compassionate staff members and volunteers. She also loves, as she says, to “hang out with everybody else’s grandparents.”
“The individuals at the senior center are the retired teaches you loved when you were a kid,” Keers says. “They’re the policeman who lived down the street from you or the lady who always smiled at you at the grocery store in your youth. Their stories are amazing, and it’s such a privilege that people trust us to help them with such an important part of their life’s journey.”
Hendricks County Senior Services is located at 1201 Sycamore Lane in Danville. For more information, call 317-745-4303, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit hcseniors.org/wp.
July 11: Prime Time Expo Summer Health Fair, 9-noon, at the HC Fairgrounds
August 14: Concert by local musicians at the Royal Theater in Danville. Time TBA.