Tufts Health Plan Foundation has released a new report prepared by UMass Boston Gerontology Institute researchers that provides a comprehensive look at current activities and resources in place to support Massachusetts populations over age 65 as well as those living with dementia and their caregivers.
Researchers led by associate professor Elizabeth Dugan prepared the Report on Demographics, Programs, and Services for an Age- and Dementia-Friendly Commonwealth: What We Have and What We Need. It offers recommendations for building age- and dementia-friendly communities, identifies gaps in resources for this growing population and includes strategies to increase those supports.
“One of the recommendations in the report is to be deliberate in coordinating efforts between age-friendly and dementia-friendly efforts,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, president of Tufts Health Plan Foundation and vice president for corporate citizenship for Tufts Health Plan. “By working together, we are stronger in providing what communities need.”
Moreno Cargie and Dugan were both recently named by Gov. Charlie Baker to the state’s first Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts.
The UMass Boston team conducting the new research included professor Nina M. Silverstein, Shuangshuang Wang, Bon Kim, and Natalie Pitheckoff from the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School.
By 2030, more than one-quarter of New England residents will be 60 years or older. Life expectancy for most adults has gone up almost 30 years since the 1900’s. This longevity bonus creates exciting opportunities and significant challenges for individuals and the Commonwealth in general. One of the most significant age-related conditions is dementia. The statewide dementia rate for adults age 65 and older is 14 percent, with the rate in some Massachusetts communities exceeding 20 percent.
An important first step to supporting dementia-friendly communities is to assess and promote existing support services, while simultaneously raising awareness of the areas that don’t have services. People living with dementia and their caregivers can commonly feel lonely and isolated, so access to support services like memory cafes and adult day program are critical.
“Our aim is to not ‘reinvent the wheel,’ but to facilitate and accelerate stakeholder progress in making Massachusetts a great place to grow up and grow old in,” said Dugan.
Some of the key findings noted in the report include:
- Most community stakeholders do not understand the scope of the problem (i.e., prevalence of dementia in their community).
- Much of the state lacks basic dementia-friendly services and supports (e.g., adult day health programs, support groups, assisted living facilities with dementia care units). On a per capita basis even densely populated areas (e.g., Boston) are underserved.
- For vulnerable populations across the state (such as older adults that live alone, racial minority, speaks English as a second language or dually eligible for Medicare and Medicaid) the need for services and supports is pronounced.
These findings can help stakeholders understand and identify what assets and services — including those that already exist, and those that are lacking — to create more welcoming and supportive communities for people living with dementia and their caregivers.
The report includes recommendations to advance this work, such as increasing awareness of the dementia prevalence rates and trends; developing and disseminating toolkits and resources on building age- and dementia-friendly communities; and targeting underserved communities to help build their capacity for dementia-friendly work.