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Sunday, July 31, 1994 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tom Kelly

A Goal For Seniors: `Aging In Place'

Eli Almo has made a comfortable living by building and operating retirement communities for those "who have." Now, as the new chairman of the advisory council to the Seattle-King County Division on Aging, he'll bring his expertise to those who "have not."

"There are all kinds of buzzwords these days for seniors," Almo said, "but what we hear most is `aging in place.' The problem has been that we are absolutely not meeting the needs of those who want to stay at home. Most people can't afford to live in a retirement home in an area of their choice. The key is to bring the products and services of assisted living into the home."

A recent survey by the American Association of Retired Persons found that people age 55 and older want to stay in their current homes for as long as possible. According to the survey, one-third of the 1,507 people polled have lived in their homes for the past 30 years. A majority have lived in their present home for at least 11 years. Those who have moved in the past 10 years tended to stay within the same county.

Retirees who are moving to retirement communities and relocating to places such as the Tri-Cities are the healthiest, wealthiest and most educated of seniors - definitely exceptions to the norm. In the past, as seniors grew frail and became more dependent they typically moved closer to a relative. Now, with housing and relocation costs beyond the means of the average retiree, the only option for many folks is to stay put.

"There are really three reasons why retirees move," Almo said. "The health of one spouse declines, the maintenance of the home has become too much, or to move closer to a family member.

"Sometimes, the kids can't move closer to the parents, so the parents move. Most of the time, though, they would rather stay in their home and in the neighborhood with their friends. It is simply the most comfortable place for them to be."

In his new role, Almo will be promoting programs, education and services for older adults in the Puget Sound area. The Division on Aging's $21 million 1994 budget is made up of federal, state and local funds. The council is especially concerned with long-term-care systems and equal-access issues.

One service idea that Almo intends to bring to the public sector mirrors a successful association provided in the retirement communities owned and managed by ERA Care Inc., which he and his wife, Rebecca, started in 1977. Health-care services in ERA Care buildings are provided through a collaboration with the University of Washington School of Nursing. Research, education and clinical care are provided through innovative programs in wellness, nutrition, exercise, assisted-living care and, in the case of Ida Culver House Broadview, nursing care.

"A cooperative effort to bring these types of services into the home seems to make the most economical sense," Almo said. "And, if done properly, will bring the genuine sense of care - respect, dignity and gratitude - into the place they are most comfortable."

The Almos' experience in the construction of multi-family dwellings gradually led to the development and management of retirement communities. They now own four in the Seattle area: The Meydenbauer, Ida Culver House Ravenna, Ida Culver House Broadview, and the Lakeshore. All are rental units that average more than double the cost of comparable apartments in the area, but include food, health care and social activities. They all have a long waiting list.

A project with the University of Washington Retirement Association is on the horizon. ERA Care plans to build a 150- to 200-unit retirement apartment complex near the UW campus for former teachers and staff.

"We are well aware that not everybody can afford to live in the type of community we offer," Almo said. "But we want to share the philosophy that has made us successful with those who will remain in their homes."

Tom Kelly is a private real-estate consultant. His column runs Sundays in the Home/Real Estate section. Send questions and comment to: Tom Kelly, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111

Copyright (c) 1994 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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