Looking for answers to aging on Cape Ann

Courtesy photo/Dr. Caitlin Coyle

Three forums next week, led by Dr. Caitlin Coyle of the University of Massachusetts Boston, seek observations and insights from Cape Ann residents, to inform planning, development, and improvement to services to the aging and disabled locally and statewide.

SeniorCare Inc., together with North Shore Community Health Network and UMass Boston are hosting the Age and Dementia Forums  in each city and town of Cape Ann, with three next week in Gloucester, Essex and Manchester. Rockport's forum was held Tuesday this week.

Part of the “age-friendly community movement” which has emerged in recent years in response to the growing needs of Americans 65 and older — an exploding population projected to hit almost 100 million by 2060 — the forums are free and open to all.

“What we’re really looking for,” Coyle told the Times from her office at UMass, “is participation from the widest swath of the Cape Ann community. If a big chunk of your community is aging you want to make sure there are opportunities for them.”

In Gloucester, for instance, over-65s constitute almost a third of the population, according to recent census figures.

“I’ve always thought there’s a lot to be learned from older people,” said Coyle, who traces her interest in this field of research to her days as an undergraduate at UMass, from which she earned her doctorate in gerontology before entering the Yale School of Public Health. As a postdoctoral fellow in Yale’s Department of Health Policy & Management, her work led to extensive participation in research to guide community-based organizations in developing policies.

The forums, said Coyle, “shed light on the opportunities we have with the ‘age wave’— as people live longer — to leverage the endless contributions these folks can make to a community.”

Part of a series of forums, which have been conducted already in Boston, Salem, Yarmouth, the open discussion format may yield some enlightening insights on Cape Ann, whose strong tradition of inter-generational family support may make a particularly good learning model. However, Coyle noted, there are many different sub strata to the aging process that need to be addressed.

“The approach the folks at SeniorCare are taking on Cape Ann,” said Coyle, “is all older people with their various subdivisions of physical and cognitive abilities, issues and challenges, that impact, for instance, transportation, housing and social participation, employment and volunteer work.”

Do our communities, for instance, have enough benches at bus stops? Shelter from the elements which are particularly harsh over the course of Cape Ann winters? Are pedestrian walkways senior friendly? 

Coyle said that she works to a “framework developed by the World Health Organization,” which has identified community aging priorities as transportation, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation, employment, communication and information, community support and health services, outdoor spaces and buildings.

Some issues, such as dementia and Alzheimer's disease —which currently affect an estimated 6 million Americans — will rely more on insights from family and care-givers, said Coyle, and their participation is highly valued at the forums. “Kindness and patience come a long way in filling in the gaps where community can do better,” she added, “and we want to hear about that, too.”

Notably successful age-friendly cities such Los Angeles, Seattle, Sausalito and New York City engage philanthropic organizations, businesses and educational institutions to reach meaningful goals. Sausalito, for instance, provides free rides for seniors 60 and older which makes transportation as simple as calling a local taxi.

Now that's priceless. Could we do the same on Cape Ann?

Joann MacKenzie may be contacted at 978-675-2707, or jomackenzie@gloucestertimes.com.



What and who: Age and Dementia Friendly Community Forums, conducted by Dr. Caitlin Coyle of University of Massachusetts Boston, and hosted by SeniorCare Inc., North Shore Community Health Network, and UMass Boston. 

When and where:  

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 6 to 7:30 p.m., at the Rose Baker Senior Center, 6 Manuel F. Lewis St., Gloucester.  

Thursday, Nov. 16, 2 to 3:30 p.m. at Essex Town Hall, 30 Martin St., Essex.

Thursday, Nov. 16, 5 to 6:30 p.m. at Manchester Community Center, 40 Beach St.

How much: Free; all welcome.

Details: More information is available at www.seniorcareinc.org/adfca/