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Senior citizens' housing needs growing

By Tory Brecht, Dispatch/Argus Staff writer
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This is the Riverview Room of the William Bettendorf mansion in Bettendorf, which is now the Iowa Masonic Nursing Home. Today's senior citizens have an ever-increasing range of housing options, but the demand is growing by leaps and bounds as well.

With Americans living longer and an aging Baby Boom generation soon to swell the ranks of the plus-60 crowd, communities are facing a crunch in senior housing.

In the past, senior citizens often would move in with their children or other family members; but increased family mobility, two-income families, and seniors' desire to remain active and independent have fueled the trend toward alternative living arrangements for older people, said Jan Stille, program manager for the Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging.

``One trend we're seeing is people staying in their own homes much longer,'' Ms. Stille said. ``They do that with homemaker-type services that they either pay for themselves or are subsidized.

``Nationally, there is a trend toward assisted living. Seniors who can't afford to pay for it themselves can get assistance through community-care programs, so more seniors are able to stay home, no matter their economic condition.''

Darlene Paper, a Davenport senior, still lives in her own home, where she does yard work and shoveling. She said seniors are more active now and have more opportunities to do things.

``I looked at other housing options, but I prefer to stay at home for now,'' she said.

For seniors who can't cope with the responsibilities of home ownership, apartment complexes and condominium communities geared for seniors are an attractive alternative to nursing homes or living with family members. More such facilities are being created throughout the region, said Jerri Leinen, president of the Center for Aging Services Inc. in Davenport.

``We're getting a lot more housing in Scott County, and that's very encouraging,''she said. ``These places allow you to stay independent and have many of the things you're accustomed to, but also have that little lift to help you maintain that independence.

``All of us want to have as much control over ourselves as we can.''

Ms. Stille said the Illinois Quad-Cities also has seen a tremendous growth in senior housing and apartments in the last five years. ``This will probably increase as the senior population increases,'' she said.

With today's seniors living longer and staying healthier, independence is important, Ms. Stille said, ``We strongly believe in self-determination for clients. Most of us, no matter what age we are, want to remain as independent as possible.''

John Swan, chairman of the Colona Economic Development Board, said efforts are under way to build more senior housing in his community.

Providing for older citizens is important, he said. ``They are one of our most valuable assets. They built our community and made it what it is. They are very active in the community, and we want to pass their knowledge on to the next generation.''

Of course, health concerns force some seniors into nursing homes. But that industry has seen some drastic changes over the past 20 years as well, said Mary Rillie, director of social services at Oak Glen Nursing Home, Coal Valley.

Oak Glen was ranked the best nursing home in Illinois in 1998, in part because it puts a priority on keeping its seniors active, Ms. Rillie said.

``Too often, people have looked at nursing homes as abandonment -- a place to die,'' she said. ``That's not the case anymore.

``Our goal is to keep people doing as much for themselves for as long as they can. Nothing makes us happier than to help a patient get better and get back home.''

Copyright 1999, Moline Dispatch Publishing Co.