SENIORITY PROFILE: TAMMY MACDONALD
By JENNIFER HILL • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
COOPERTOWN – Our twilight years can be as fulfilling as our early ones.
That is what Tamie MacDonald, Otsego County’s Office for Aging director, wants people of all ages to know, and that her office can help us realize it.
“We can change our own story of what aging is,” MacDonald said. “No one wants to be frail or dependent on people. It’s a matter of planning for an independent life as a senior ahead of time. And the earlier we plan, the more likely you’ll be active, independent, and do the things you want to do.”
“If we don’t plan ahead, we lose choices, which then limits our ability to be independent,” she added. It’s also common to start thinking about planning for what happens to your estate once you’re gone; contacting someone like a Rochester Hills Estate Planning Lawyer could be a good first step for ensuring that you leave something behind for your loved ones.
MacDonald believes growing up on her father’s farm in Delaware County played a role in her pursuing a career in gerontology.
“Farmers are used to being self-reliant, tough, and resilient,” said MacDonald, whose father, the oldest of 15 kids on his family’s farm, started farming on his own at age 11. “My father could never be in a nursing home in his final years.”
She “started to dabble in gerontology” while earning her BA in psychology at SUNY Cortland. MacDonald then did what many young people in Upstate New York do after high school and college, which is also impacting older adults’ independence in later years – she moved to Florida to work for an Aid for the Aging office there.
After Florida, MacDonald earned a master’s in Gerontology at Miami University in Ohio, after which she took a position as a caseworker for senior services in Lyon County with Nevada’s Human Services Agency. After 18 months in that position, the agency promoted her to assistant director, whose focus was more on families with children than seniors.
After nine years in that position, she moved back to Delaware County and worked in its Office for the Aging for two years before being hired as director of Otsego County’s same office.
MacDonald’s childhood in rural New York and her experience working with seniors in different parts of the country have helped her see the pluses and minuses of Upstate New Yorkers having independent, fulfilling lives as seniors.
“We’re strong and resilient and have a very strong mindset,” she said. “We need to, to survive the winters here. Those are pluses because you have to be tough to age and a willpower to age well.”
But those same qualities can hinder Upstate New Yorkers from finding and reaching out the supports they need when they are elderly.
“Most people want to stay in their homes and be independent when they’re elderly,” said MacDonald. “Their biggest fear is, if I show I can’t live by myself, they’ll put me in a nursing home and they’ll take away my house.”
Fortunately, she said, there is no system that allows a person’s house to be taken away. But MacDonald said, especially because of the continuing “out-migration of young adults looking for better opportunities, our families aren’t nearby like the used to be.”
“Usually, it’s not seniors calling us,” said MacDonald. “It’s their adult children who live four, five hours away asking for advice on specific concerns they have for their parents living alone.”
Whether a senior citizen or an adult calling about an aging parent, the Office for the Aging will point people to resources based on the dynamics they face.
“We show you an array of options that will best fit your situation,” MacDonald said. “Even if you live on top of a mountain miles away from people and services, we can help you get formal and informal supports so you can still live there.”
MacDonald gave the example of wearing a personal emergency response or medical alert button. When the wearer pushes it, it signals a call center. “If you tell them it’s an emergency, they’ll call an ambulance; if it’s not, if you’ve just fallen and need help standing back up, they’ll call a neighbor or friend for you.”