Chicago launches $1M program to reach the 25 percent of seniors who are ‘living in isolation’

Many of Chicago’s 315,900 senior citizens suffer from Alzheimer’s and dementia and are being ‘left on the curbside,’ aldermen were told Monday.

SHARE Chicago launches $1M program to reach the 25 percent of seniors who are ‘living in isolation’
Ald. Tom Tunney being interviewed by Chicago Sun-Times reporter Fran Spielman.

Ald. Tom Tunney (44th), chairman of the City Council’s Zoning Committee, said a grant to train building staff on Alzheimer’s and related diseases is sorely needed. “We have people that have various stages of dementia that seem to be abandoned by their families, and/or individuals that are isolated, living in apartments,” Tunney said Monday.

Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times

Twenty-five percent of Chicago’s 315,900 senior citizens are “living in isolation” and many of those suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia are being “left on the curbside,” aldermen were told Monday.

To combat the burgeoning problem, the City Council’s Committee on Budget and Government Operations agreed to earmark $1 million in federal funds to train building managers and their staffs on Alzheimer’s and related dementias.

The grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also will be used to train family caregivers and provide “train-the-trainer opportunities” for staff at senior citizen centers, senior housing facilities, community and faith-based organizations.

Three new full-time employees will be hired to go building-to-building to provide training, work with management companies on site or bring building managers to a central training location. Pilot training will be provided by the University of Illinois at Chicago. A training video also will be prepared.

The grant can’t come soon enough for Zoning Committee Chairman Tom Tunney (44th).

His ward office has been fielding requests from elderly high-rise residents whose health, memory and finances are declining.

“We have people that have various stages of dementia that seem to be abandoned by their families, and/or individuals that are isolated, living in apartments,” Tunney said Monday.

“There’s so much isolation in communities and, unfortunately, nobody wants to accept responsibility. I shouldn’t say nobody, but there’s a real problem here. We have an individual failing in his or her mental care. Where is the continuity of service because they come to our office for help? … They’re being left on the curbside.”

Joyce Gallagher, deputy commissioner of the Department of Family and Support Services, said the city has tried for years to use its 21 senior citizen centers to identify people in various stages of mental decline.

But the outreach program completely missed elderly Chicagoans living in high-rises who “never see anyone outside their buildings.”

Chicago’s declining population stands at 2.7 million, with an estimated 315,900 or 11.7 percent of those people over the age of 65.

“It is a huge problem. Probably 25 percent of the seniors within the city of Chicago do find themselves in isolation. And this is one program where we can help identify them, bring them some assistance,” Gallagher said.

“This does not exist anywhere in the country and there’s such a need for these building managers because they’re the first point of reference for each of these individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.”

Tunney described the downward spiral that has impacted high-rise residents in his North Side ward after they stop working, start declining mentally and no longer can afford their rising rents.

“Who is helping with their memory care? Because it’s expensive. They’ve depleted their own resources. And the family is half-in, half-out. That’s a very expensive proposition for families, too,” Tunney said.

“So we get the requests. They’re coming to our office because they’re a month from being evicted. And when you find out the case, there’s more to it than their not paying the rent.”

Lincoln Park Ald. Michele Smith (43rd) called the $1 million training and outreach program a godsend.

“You are putting your finger on something that is absolutely true. Isolated seniors [living in] condominiums and rental buildings have nobody,” Smith said.

The alderman urged Gallagher to “keep me on your list,” noting that many aldermen “maintain lists of management people because we talk to them all the time” about constituent services.

“We would be delighted to try to push this training out for condominiums and apartment buildings. We would love to work with you on this,” Smith said.

City officials need “all the support we can get” to push the program citywide, Gallagher said.

“You calling the management companies means a lot more than me calling the management companies,” she said.

The $1 million Alzheimer’s grant was among roughly $6 million in grant funds added to the city’s 2019 budget during Monday’s meeting.

Also approved was a $38,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, to be used to provide eight voluntary crisis intervention team training sessions to improve police response to mental health-related incidents like the one that triggered the 2015 fatal police shooting of Quintonio LeGrier and neighbor/bystander Bettie Jones.

So far, 2,854 of the Chicago Police Department’s 13,400 sworn officers have received the 40 hours of basic CIT training to help them “understand the signs and symptoms of mental illness, safely de-escalate individuals experiencing behavioral health crisis and connect those individuals to treatment and community resources,” according to City Hall.

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