According to a 2010 AARP survey, nearly 90 percent of those over age 65 want to stay in their residence for as long as possible. But to do that, or move into apartments, many need help with health, meals, exercise, transportation, and socialization.
One of the oldest Vermonters to illustrate this trend in independent living is a dynamic centenarian named Lida Surridge. She just turned 101, and she lives in her own apartment in Lyndonville's historic Darling Inn.
It's located in the heart of the downtown, near shops and cafes, so she gets out just about every day. If she needs transportation to more far flung places, volunteers love to drive her to her favorite haunts before she comes back to cook her own dinner and maybe do a word puzzle before bed.
Occasionally she takes a break in the lobby of her apartment complex.
She sinks into a chair, maybe just a little weary after a hectic afternoon out on the town. Her face is weathered but not all that wrinkly and her silver hair frames it in spikes, making her look decades younger than she is.
Bobbing from her walker on this special day are two helium birthday balloons and assorted cargo, including a tote bag she takes to a senior citizen activities center. Bingo, the way she plays it, can be a workout.
She points to the bag.
“I carry this because I take a shower every Monday and Thursday over there, and I have my purse, which has my Bingo chips, and these are some eggs I got today. I got some eggs from a lady today.”
Good, maybe, for breakfast. But there will be a special night out because it’s Lida’s 101st birthday.
“My daughter-in-law’s coming from Lunenburg and we’re going up to the restaurant up in Concord and have dinner there,” she reports excitedly.
She’ll be ordering a dish she’s decided is too expensive to prepare at home: tripe.
“A lot . . . don’t like it because they know where it comes from—it’s the stomach of the cow, tripe,” she chuckles.
And Lida Surridge knows a lot about cows. As the oldest of six children on a Kirby farm, she milked them by hand, by oil-lamps. Electricity didn’t come into her life until after she had raised her own eight children. One daughter accompanies her to a surprise afternoon birthday party at the Darling Inn dining room.
She gets to wear a becoming purple wreath on her head, and mingle with her many friends.
As she blows out the candles on her cake—they spell 101, since they wouldn’t all fit individually—she makes a pretty logical wish.
“I wished to get to 102,” she says.
Then comes more of her favorite pastime: Bingo.
Lida Surridge is following, maybe even leading, a trend in geriatric care and housing. Just ask Merten Bangemann-Johnson. He’s CEO of Rural Edge, a housing agency that partners with a statewide program called SASH, Support and Services At Home. While this in-town apartment building is a new address for Surridge—she recently moved here out of her single family home—its meal program, exercise classes, and regional transportation service have helped her keep up her active pace. Bangemann-Johnson says she is not the only senior citizen setting an example of independence, with a growing array of support services.
“They need a little bit of extra help and at the same time that little bit of extra help keeps them connected in their community, keeps them safe, keeps them happy and it saves a lot of money in the process.”
Saves money, he means, for aging Vermonters. But also for the state, because its umbrella assistance program, SASH, partners with many social service agencies that are fueled by volunteer labor. That means that seniors on scant fixed incomes who want to live in their own houses can get help monitoring their health, doing chores, making meals, and getting out and about. And that leaves more space in nursing homes and subsidized housing for elderly Vermonters who are really too frail or sick to live alone.