Reach Out Massachusetts Mobilizes Communities to Combat Social Isolation

The desire to spend time alone is a natural and even healthy urge. But, seeking time alone and social isolation, are not the same.

Social isolation — defined as a lack of social connections — is considered a serious public health risk and can impair one’s physical and mental health. Older adults are at increased risk for social isolation because they are more likely to have lost a spouse and close friends, live alone, suffer from a chronic illness, or have limited mobility.

To combat this devastating public health problem, the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston and AARP Massachusetts have created a resource guide highlighting ways in which many Massachusetts cities and towns are already addressing social isolation in their communities. The guide is the first completed project of the Massachusetts Task Force to End Loneliness & Build Community. The task force is co-led by Sandra Harris, president of AARP Massachusetts, and Caitlin Coyle, Ph.D., the lead author of the resource guide and a research fellow at the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston. Continue reading

UMass Becomes First University System to Join the Age-Friendly University Global Network

BOSTON – In August 2019, the five-campus University of Massachusetts system endorsed the 10 principles of the Age-Friendly University, as defined by Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network at Dublin City University, joining an international effort intended to highlight the role of higher education in responding to the challenges and opportunities associated with an aging population.

UMass is the first university system to join the AFU Global Network, earning the designation for its campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell and the UMass Medical School in Worcester. UMass Boston endorsed the principles and joined the network in 2017.

“I’m pleased that with the support of all five of our chancellors, UMass has received this designation as an Age-Friendly University,” said President Marty Meehan. “It reaffirms our long-held commitment to making a world-class public research university education accessible to all people in the Commonwealth, regardless of age.” Continue reading

UMass Boston Shows Progress in Audit of Age-Friendly University Initiative

By Taryn Hojlo

The first audit of the UMass Boston age-friendly university initiative shows the campus is making progress embracing its pledge to become more inviting to older students, staff, faculty and other members of the community. The audit, led by gerontology professor Nina Silverstein, reviewed the university’s age-friendly strengths as well as areas in need of additional attention. The volunteer research team included representatives from across campus departments and constituencies.

“Beyond simply endorsing principles, we needed to understand what age-friendliness means for our campus and what steps need to be taken to achieve it,” said Silverstein. “The audit is a step in the right direction.” Continue reading

The Age-Friendly Movement: How it Grew and What Plans for an Older Future Could Achieve

The age-friendly movement is being embraced in small towns, cities and even states across the country. All of them see populations growing older and recognize that they must adapt. They are assessing needs and creating plans so their communities will be great places for residents of all ages to live in the future. The Gerontology Institute Blog invited three of the leading age-friendly voices in Massachusetts to discuss the movement — what it has achieved and where it is going.

Michael Festa is the Massachusetts state director of AARP, the leader in developing age-friendly community networks across the country.  Nora Moreno Cargie is president of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, a leading supporter of work in healthy living with an emphasis on older adults. Jan Mutchler is director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her center works directly with communities across the state to assess age-friendly needs and develop action plans to address them. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Q: Mike, AARP recently designated Massachusetts the nation’s second age-friendly state. How did that happen and what does it mean?

Michael Festa: It means Massachusetts is in a place where all departments of state government – not just public health and human services, but in all aspects – are committing to a process in which an age-friendly lens is applied. But the application also asks what you are doing already that is reflective of that commitment. There are a lot of things going on in communities with the age-friendly initiative. You already have a coordination of professional associations like planning councils and other groups. AARP asks, is this state in a place where we can acknowledge it is age-friendly or in the process of achieving all it is aspiring to do? The reality of what is happening in Massachusetts made it quite easy for AARP to say yes.

Nora Moreno Cargie: I would add just to that the Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts. There’s this statewide body, to Gov. Baker’s credit. We talk to ourselves about ourselves — here you have three people who are involved in age-friendly stuff. What the governor recognized is that we had to talk to people in transportation and housing and those other areas, so that they could also become aware of what was necessary to achieve this age-friendly work.

Q: Local age-friendly planning is taking place all over the state. How did it become so popular on the municipal level?

Jan Mutchler: This whole initiative took off because there was an interest in doing something innovative, but there hadn’t been a name for it or models for it. It’s been so successful here because there were early adopters and the publicity about this being an initiative that had a name and a framework attached to it. People are excited and moving ahead because it’s been where they wanted to go all along. Communities approach all of this with very different capacities. We’re seeing a huge range needs for guidance and support. Continue reading

Boston Age-Friendly Action Plan Developed With Gerontology Institute Research

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the city’s Elderly Commission have launched the first-ever Age-Friendly Boston Action Plan. He called it a blueprint to make Boston the best city and place to live for older adults within three years.

The 75 action items in the plan were developed through 25 listening sessions, featuring engagement from over 4,000 older residents throughout the city developed in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston, AARP and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.

The Elderly Commission formed a partnership with the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School, supported by a grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, to conduct research based on the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization. Grounded in community feedback, the plan identifies recommendations and action items the City will take to enhance the quality of life for Boston’s older adult residents. Continue reading