Boston’s Senior Civic Academy Helps Older Adults Understand and Engage Local Government

The Boston Senior Civic Academy was created in 2018 by city officials, with the assistance of the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging. Its curriculum is designed to help older adults better understand how local government works and develop skills to advocate for issues important to them. Institute research fellow Caitlin Coyle has played a central role in the development of the academy. She recently spoke with the Gerontology Institute Blog about the program.

Q: How did Boston’s Senior Civic Academy come about?

Caitlin Coyle: The program was developed as a part of the Age Friendly Boston Initiative. As part of that initiative, we did a comprehensive needs assessment for the city of Boston several years ago. We found seniors felt that local policy makers and advocates did not necessarily take into consideration their experiences, needs and preferences. In response, this program was created as an opportunity for seniors to become more involved and to empower them as self-advocates at the policy level. It also created an opportunity for public education about how policy and decisions are made at the local, state and federal levels. Continue reading

Gerontology Associate Professor Kathrin Boerner: Dealing with Grief After Death


UMass Boston Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner has spent much of her career researching a wide range of end-of-life issues. She was recently interviewed by MyRoche, a publication of the global health care company Roche Holding AG, about her work. The following transcript of the interview with MyRoche editor-in-chief Rebekka Schnell was first published in January.

Q: Why are you so focused on death?

 Kathrin Boerner:  Many people do indeed ask me about my concern with such depressing matters. But I don’t see it like that at all. I work on a topic that affects everyone, and that’s what makes it so relevant. What is more, it is fantastic to see the capacity people have to cope with terri­ble loss, and to help those who aren’t doing so well. Continue reading

Institute Director Len Fishman: Ease Direct-Care Health Workforce Shortage by Improving Jobs

Len Fishman testifies before Legislative committee

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman testifies Feb. 5 before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman offered a simple suggestion to state legislators wrestling with the critical shortage of low-paid direct-care health workers: Make the jobs more attractive.

Fishman told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Services that two things – more money and a legitimate career path to better jobs – were overwhelmingly the most important factors that would attract more workers to the field.

“How can we convince more people to accept and remain in jobs that are physically and emotionally demanding, provide poor benefits, low wages and offer virtually no opportunity for career advancement? When you ask the question honestly, it answers itself,” he told the legislators at a Feb. 5 hearing. Continue reading

How Gerontology Classmates Became Published Research Team Working on Course Project

Jeffrey Stokes

Jeffrey Stokes

They started out as four UMass Boston gerontology students taking a standard graduate course, Families in Later Life. Before long, the classmates developed into a research team.

Assistant professor Jeff Stokes was teaching the course in the spring semester of 2019 and he quickly realized the unusually small class – consisting entirely of those four students – presented a rare opportunity.

Rather than assigning students to prepare individual final papers, Stokes suggested they could collaborate on a single research project. He put it to a vote and the decision was unanimous.

Stokes talked with students Celeste Beaulieu, Cindy Bui, Elizabeth Gallagher and Remona Kanyat about a topic that would interest them all and reached a quick agreement.

They prepared a draft article by the end of the semester and a final version of “For better or for worse: Marital status transitions and sexual life in middle and later life” was recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Continue reading

Students Jump in to Help Pension Action Center Manage Surge in Callers Seeking Help With Benefits

Pension Action Center student program participants

The students who helped the Pension Action Center process a big increase in calls for assistance. Left to right, Elizabeth Arpino, Kailyn Fellmeth, and Andrew Bellahcene.

Can you wear out a phone?

The Pension Action Center at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute is always busy fielding calls from people seeking help to track down their pensions or investigate benefits they believe they are owed. But the pace of callers seeking PAC helped went into overdrive during the fall.

That posed a problem for the small center with a limited number of people on hand to manage the volume. One solution: A grant from the McCormack Graduate School allowed PAC Director Anna-Marie Tabor to hire UMass Boston undergraduate students to jump in and help process the pension queries during the fall semester. Continue reading

Turning Gray and into the Red: The True Cost of Growing Old in America

This article originally appeared in The Conversation, an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.

The U.S. population is aging at such a rate that within a few years, older Americans will outnumber the country’s children for the first time, according to census projections. But rising rents, health care and other living costs mean that for many entering their retirement years, balancing the household budget can be a struggle.

To get a better understanding of how much of a struggle, a team at the University of Massachusetts Boston established a benchmark against which to measure the financial security of Americans aged 65 and over. Jan Mutchler is Professor of Gerontology and Director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging in the Gerontology Institute at UMass. Continue reading

Half of Single Older Adults in U.S. Lack Income to Pay for Basic Needs

Researchers tracking the economic security of America’s older adults have found that half who live alone and nearly a quarter of those living in two-person households where both are age 65 or older are unable to afford basic necessities without extra assistance.

The 2019 Elder IndexTM and a companion report, Insecurity in the States 2019, calculates the elder economic “insecurity rate” both nationally and on a state-by-state basis. The new index data and report were produced by the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

Among the states, Massachusetts leads the nation with the highest level of elder economic insecurity for older adults living alone. Seven of the top 10 states in that economic insecurity category, including New York and New Jersey, were located in the Northeast. They were joined by Mississippi, Louisiana, and California. Continue reading

The 2019 Elder Index: An Online Tool Measuring the True Cost of Elder Living in Every U.S. County and State

The new 2019 Elder Index is an important, free resource available to anyone online. It provides information about elder cost of living across the United States. Here are the answers to some questions you may have.

Q: What’s new about the Elder Index?

A: The 2019 Elder Index is fully updated with new data on the realistic cost of living for older adults. It’s the Index’s first big information update since 2016. The index also has a redesigned, easy-to-use website and a new location online, at www.elderindex.org.

Q: What’s special about the information the index can provide?

A: The Elder Index provides economic information that is both broad and deep. The Congressional Budget Office cites the Elder Index as one of the most commonly used measures of retirement adequacy, noting that it is the only adequacy measure oriented specifically to older people and takes into account the unique demands of housing and medical care on older budgets. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Report Finds High Levels of Elder Economic Insecurity in Massachusetts

Massachusetts is home to the nation’s highest percentage of older adults living alone who are unable to afford basic necessities without extra assistance, according to new research from UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute.

About 62 percent of adults age 65 and older in Massachusetts are unable to afford the cost of a no-frills lifestyle that pays for basics such as food, housing, health care and transportation, according to a new report, Insecurity in the States 2019.

About 35 percent of Massachusetts elder couples living in two-person households are unable to afford their basic cost of living without assistance, the third highest rate in the nation, the report found. Only Vermont and New York had higher rates for older couples living independently. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation With Vince Mor on Alzheimer’s Care and the State of Nursing Homes

Len Fishman and Vince Mor

Len Fishman, left, and Vince Mor

Vincent Mor is a leading academic expert on eldercare issues and a national authority on research related to nursing homes. The Brown University professor has been principal investigator in more than 40 grants funded by the National Institutes of Health that focus on the use of health services and the outcomes experienced by frail and chronically ill persons.

Mor and Susan Mitchell of Hebrew SeniorLife are leading an ambitious new collaborative research incubator for “pragmatic clinical trials” that test and evaluate interventions for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. Last month, they received a grant from the National Institute on Aging expected to total $53.4 million to fund that work over the next five years. It was one of the largest federal grants ever awarded for Alzheimer’s care.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently spoke with Mor to talk about his new project and discuss the state of the struggling nursing home industry. The following is an edited version of their conversation. Continue reading