Walk into Tracee Gianchetta’s office and you’re immediately welcomed. First, with a sincere, two-handed handshake; second, with the sweet and comforting aroma of lemongrass wafting from an essential oil diffuser. You’ll smile at her whimsical collection of trinkets and rubber duckies; you’ll agree that, yes, her view of Mount Jumbo provides for inspirational moments. A salt crystal lamp glows beside a computer monitor; a hot-water kettle is at the ready for a cup of tea.
Tracee’s office is homey.
It makes sense, really. Tracee’s work revolves around a commitment to home, to comfort, to quality of life.
As a care transitions coach at Missoula Aging Services, Tracee’s passion for home fuels her fire: helping people in her community age with grace and dignity, hopefully from the comfort of their own home.
She’s a native Missoulian. Her first job found her working as a home health aide. She turned that love for working with older adults into a career as a social worker, first with a degree from the University of Montana, and then with a master’s degree from Portland State University.
But degrees aside, what absolutely emits from Tracee is a true care for people.
“I wanted to create change in my community,” Tracee explained with a grin. “Let’s age awesome in Missoula.”
Tracee returned to Missoula and in 2007, began her work at Missoula Aging Services. Since then, she’s developed six programs focused on supporting older adults and their caregivers, with another innovation on the way.
Missoula Aging Services partners with medical clinics, hospitals, and doctors in the Missoula community to identify the first moment when an individual needs support with care.
“There’s so many ways you can age. You can’t plan for a heart attack or a stroke but you can have the discussion about quality-of-life care,” Tracee said. “It’s all about quality of life. We can educate, coach, and help you understand what all the options are in Missoula. We help to make you the most informed consumer.”
In her role as a care transitions coach, Tracee makes home visits to assess what support is needed for a person to remain at home as they get older.
“We layer in supports: cleaning, laundry, meals, and companionship, for example,” Tracee said. “Those things can be enough for someone to age at home.”
Tracee admits that these conversations with older adults, their families, and caregivers can be fraught with emotion. They are discussions about topics that are sensitive and private. But, Tracee said, they are conversations that shouldn’t be avoided.
“In our model of transitional care, the older adult is the captain of their own ship,” Tracee said. “Missoula Aging Services is here to coach and offer tools so individuals can make their own choices about how they age.”
With those discussions, Tracee sees a shift in the way society approaches aging.
“The face of aging is becoming more and more community based. People want to age with confidence, knowing they’ve been given the best tools,” she said. “I hope that as time goes on, this would be a normal, everyday conversation that everyone in our community would engage in.”
In her nearly 13 years with Missoula Aging Services, Tracee has visited hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes in the Missoula community. She’s seen her share of heartbreak but also her share of positive outcomes—moments where help with laundry, housekeeping, hot meals, and weekly visits from volunteers have made a significant difference in a person’s life.
“I have no fear of aging. I’m excited about the aging process,” Tracee said. “It’s not that scary at all.”
She laughs as she recalls conversations her own circle of friends, talking about how they want to grow older. Her eyes shine as she shares her hope that everyone can look forward to aging without fear or worry.
Missoula Aging Services makes its mission out of supporting older adults and their caregivers. It’s a mission that’s embedded in Tracee’s heart and soul.
“This work fits me. I love hearing people’s stories. I want it to be part of our community culture to talk about how we care for each other,” Tracee said. “If you’re an older adult or caregiver and you have not come into our office or checked out our website, give us a call. We are your partner-in-aging in Missoula.”
Community aging: a partnership between families, individuals, health care providers, and people—like Tracee—who work tirelessly for a vision of growing older in the comfort of home.