Initiative expands to help Iowa seniors stay in their homes longer

IOWA CITY — A University of Iowa pilot program launched in 2019 to help older Iowans continue living independently in their homes is seeing wide success and will soon be available statewide.

Brian Kaskie, a UI professor of health policy, says a senior citizen who is hospitalized for an illness or a medical procedure may wind up in a long-term care facility if their home isn’t fit for them to return, or if they’re having troubles.

“As people get older, maybe there’s a little bit more challenge for them moving around, it’s harder to stand up and walk without having some challenge to balance,” Kaskie says. “Other folks, that may be nutrition. Maybe they don’t eat as well now that they’re retired and living at home alone. Other folks, it may be challenges with their memory and they may not be thinking as clearly.”

The Iowa Return to Community initiative is expanding in the state, an effort to identify people who may be at-risk and help them to make their homes more comfortable and safe.

“What we’re doing is having doctors and nurses and discharge planners at hospitals and other medical clinics, identify older Iowans who may be at risk, those people who may have some trouble,” Kaskie says, “and what we do is link them up to the local aging service providers, and those folks then will come out to an individual’s home and meet with them.”

Working with the Iowa Department on Aging, those providers can offer a range of help to cover a senior’s needs, like hooking them up with the Meals on Wheels program, which can bring them hot, healthy meals several times a week.

“If we could go in and do assessments and say, ‘Okay, here are things we could do to your home to make it a little more age-friendly,’ that’s part of the program,” Kaskie says. “The other part of the program is they schedule chore services to come out, so if someone needs help with cleaning things, or making small home modifications, the aging network will send somebody out to help them.”

It may be something like recommending a nearby program for exercise or yoga, or replacing a tub-style shower with a walk-in option.

Kaskie says the Iowa Return to Community program is keeping participants happier, healthier, and in their homes longer, while saving the state money.

Iowa has the country’s highest percentage of residents above age 80, and studies find by 2030, for the first time in state history, Iowans over age 65 will outnumber those under the age of 18.