By Dot Bergin
If you were one of the 1560 age 55-plus residents who completed the Council on Aging survey last November, you’ll be pleased to know that your thoughts and ideas are now part of a 100-page report, soon to be delivered to the Town and available to all.
At two public sessions on June 5, Caitlyn Coyle, Ph.D., Research Fellow and Assistant Professor, Gerontology Institute, UMass Boston, gave a snapshot of the survey results and offered recommendations for future actions by the town. The sessions were well attended, with town officials, COA board members, and interested citizens on hand.
There were some predictable findings:
Seniors are strongly interested in remaining in Bedford and equally concerned about the lack of smaller housing more suited to the needs of an aging population. And Bedford is growing older: today about 1 in 5 residents is 60 or older but by 2030 that number will be 1 in 3.
Although housing was a dominant theme emerging from the survey, other issues were also top of mind:
- Not enough public transportation
- In the 75 and older group, 38 percent report a disability (physical mobility is a challenge.) Who are the caregivers for this population?
- Seniors are economically disadvantaged – cost of living is a concern
- No family nearby
A surprising finding from the survey was that-despite strong efforts by the Council on Aging to publicize its services widely-many respondents either are not aware of the COA’s programs or say they don’t need them. Lack of interest or simply not knowing about the variety of events and programs at the COA is a deterrent to participation. “I don’t feel old enough,” was one answer from more than 71 percent of respondents in the age 55 to 59 group and 41 percent in the 60 to 79 age group! In truth, the COA mails out 2500 of its monthly newsletters and now the newsletter is available online: https://www.bedfordma.gov/subscribe (COA Newsletter is at the bottom of the page.)
What can Bedford do to meet the needs of its aging population? Coyle and her team from UMass Boston offer a menu of suggestions:
- First, the town should plan for the growth of an older population. The changing demographics will affect many aspects of town management.
- “Get out the word” that there are transportation options for seniors who aren’t driving (promote DASH, BLT, and services such as Uber and Lyft.)
- Promote alternate housing options – this might require changes to current zoning regulations.
- Develop information on ways of making home-modifications, to accommodate needs of seniors.
- Enhance cross-departmental and public-private relationships. In other words, encourage town boards and organizations to talk with one another and share resources.
- Let townspeople know the range of senior services available. Bedford doesn’t lack resources but not everyone knows what’s out there in the way of help.
- Expand caregiver support. If family members are providing help to seniors, perhaps they “need a break” from time to time.
- Make tax work-offs more available. There are opportunities for seniors to lower their taxes by working for the COA but many are not aware of this.
The COA expects to receive the full report from UMass Boston sometime this summer. Copies will be available online, via the town’s website. The Citizen will continue to follow the story. Ideas generated from the survey will not “germinate” overnight but given the interest shown in the survey results, will likely play out over several years’ time.