The advocate

(First published in the June 21, 2018 issue of City Pages)

The Aging and Disability Resource Center’s new director, Jonette Arms, will use both personal and professional experience in an era when more people than ever before will need the agency’s services


Jonette Arms takes over the ADRC as the number of seniors is expected to grow, increasing the demand for services.

While some people think the Aging and Disability Resource Center is focused on senior health and social programming, that’s not at all what the ADRC of Central Wisconsin does.

Yes, the multi-county agency once was associated with popular programs like exercise classes and card game space, when it was located at North Central Health Care. But those were more NCHC activities. When the ADRC moved to its current address at 2600 Stewart Avenue, that previous space set aside for seniors to exercise and socialize was revamped by NCHC in order to address the county’s growing crises in opioid addiction and mental health services. That was always a temporary space the seniors were allowed to use.

Now two new senior spaces are under development in the Wausau—a proposed facility in Rib Mountain, and an expanded program at the YMCA in Wausau.

At the same time, the ADRC has a new director. Jonette Arms took the helm in March, after having served as assistant director and interim director of the Department of Aging in Milwaukee County. The ADRC agency covers Marathon, Lincoln, Langlade and Wood counties, providing services to seniors and their loved ones, including nutrition, caregiver resources, benefits advice, and as a clearinghouse to the myriad of sometimes puzzling rules and services for the elderly.

While Milwaukee County had 14 senior centers run by the Department of Aging, Marathon County doesn’t have any kind of dedicated senior center. Fundraising is underway on the new The Connections Place in Rib Mountain, the first dedicated senior center in the area. Connections Place Board President Jean Burgener says the senior facility plans to partner closely with Arms and the ADRC to makes sure seniors are getting the services they need.

Concurrently, the Woodson YMCA is including a focus on seniors in its expansion plans, slated to be released in July. While CEO Bryan Bailey declined to discuss details of what that will entail, he did confirm that the YMCA’s plans include both programming and facility space for seniors.

There’s a reason so much attention is being paid to resources for people of retirement age: simple demographics.

Right now, approximately 35% of seniors in Marathon County over the age of 65 live alone, according to the most recent Marathon County Life Report. And seniors as a population group are becoming a bigger and bigger ratio. Those over 65 are expected to comprise as much as 25% of the population by 2040, according to the state Department of Administration, compared to the current 12-15%.

In other words, as this population bulge ages, Marathon County alone soon will have thousands more elderly citizens. People see it coming, and they’re gearing up for change.

Diving in hands on

Arms got her start as a nursing assistant in 1990 and developed a passion for working with older adults. She also spent a year and a half taking care of her mother when she became ill. In doing so, Arms gained valuable experience as a home caretaker, something that will become more and more common as not only the numbers of seniors grow, but a greater emphasis is placed on home care and caretaking by children or other family members.

Arms says the ADRC provides a program for adult caregivers that helps provide support and advice to adult caregivers. The program has 184 enrolled in the six-week program across the four-county region for those to discuss their concerns and struggles with other caregivers.

“One of our health educators told me it’s one of the programs she has really seen make a difference from the time a caregiver begins the program to the time the six weeks are up,” Arms says.

With the senior population expected to rise and more seniors living at home longer, the biggest program the ADRC provides will become even more important: The ADRC’s nutrition program includes meals at sites where seniors can attend as well as Meals on Wheels, where volunteers deliver meals at home to seniors throughout the four-county community.

The Meals on Wheels program provides two important services outside of just delivering a hot meal. It helps combat social isolation, Arms says, and also serves as a welfare check on that person. Seniors living alone might not have someone to check up on them. Meals on Wheels volunteers can and do report if they see something amiss, such as a resident not answering the door or if they notice changes in the home or client.

“It’s more than just a meal,” Arms says. “Whether a person is getting a meal every day or one, two or three days per week, they look forward to seeing the drivers. The drivers are checking on them, having those brief conversations. Our drivers get to know the clients very well.”

The program serves roughly 230,000 meals annually to 2,800 seniors across four counties.

In Milwaukee County, the Department of Aging contracts out its nutrition services. At the ADRC, this program is handled in-house. So as part of Arms’ efforts to see first-hand what the ADRC offers, she has been delivering meals herself, and visiting every site in the four-county region covered by the ADRC. “I want to experience it myself, and I want the staff and the residents to know I care,” she says.

Arms says many of her friends and family members expressed surprise at her taking this job and relocating to Marathon County. But Arms says the lifestyle here suits her perfectly. “It’s been a very welcoming environment, very friendly,” Arms says. “Even before I was hired I was getting calls welcoming me to the area.”

Senior abuse and exploitation

An issue that’s getting more and more attention as the elderly population grows: abuse and financial exploitation of seniors.

Arms says the ADRC often receives calls about financial abuse. Even worse, Arms says, it’s common here and was very common in Milwaukee to come across signs of financial abuse while the client is at the office for something else. The senior might not even be aware he or she is being taken advantage of.

“It might be that they can’t make their ends meet,” Arms says. “We help them with their finances and realize they should have enough. Where is the money going?”

Financial exploitation and abuse often go hand-in-hand, says Jane Graham Jennings, executive director of The Women’s Community in Wausau.

When people think of abuse, they usually envision a battered woman escaping an abusive husband. But many of the people who receive help at The Women’s Community are victims over the age of 65, says Jennings.

There were 253 reported cases of elder abuse in Marathon County in 2017, Jennings says, and 148 elderly abuse victims received assistance at The Women’s Community that year. Those numbers are expected to grow, not only because the number of seniors are expected to grow in Marathon County, but also because raised awareness will spark more people to report cases to the authorities and seek help.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the most likely perpetrators are adult children abusing their elderly parents, and most often it often involves financial exploitation. The most common abuse was verbal, followed by financial manipulation and lastly physical abuse, according to the NCEA.

Abusers will essentially resort to bullying in order to gain a financial advantage over their elderly relative. Statistics can be hard to track down because so many of the definitions, such as who is elderly and what constitutes abuse, are fluid, but according to the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources, in 2010 elderly victims are estimated to have lost $2.9 billion through financial exploitation. As few as one in 44 incidents are reported to someone, according to GWAAR.

The Women’s Community has a special staff member dedicated to helping victims of elderly abuse, and has since 2002. Other advocates can assist if there are many cases, but the growing number of cases of elderly abuse could lead to hiring a second coordinator, if the funding is there, Jennings says.

The Women’s Community has made a concerted effort to raise awareness of elderly abuse and financial exploitation. It has been meeting with senior groups, speaking at municipal meetings such as the Wausau City Council recently, and staff has received training on working with those with dementia.

Many elderly don’t report abuse because they might not even recognize the abuse or be afraid to call it that. “When they’re being manipulated and abused by their adult children, they feel so much guilt,” Jennings says. “They don’t want their children to get in trouble.”

Anyone who thinks they might be the victim of abuse or are concerned about someone they think is being abused can call The Women’s Community anonymously at 715-842-7323.