Boston’s Older Population: Increasing in Racial Diversity, but Quality of Life is Shaped by Racism, Discrimination

A new report from UMass Boston identifies aging equity among Boston residents

The number of Boston residents aged 60 and older has increased by more than one-third in the last eight years and more than half of older residents are persons of color. However the experiences of these older residents differ substantially depending on race, ethnicity and gender, and challenges their abilities to thrive.

A new report, “Aging Strong for All: Examining Aging Equity in the City of Boston,” by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston, documents disparities across three dimensions that impact quality of life — economic security, health, social engagement — and identifies opportunities for stakeholders to ensure an environment in which “aging strong” is possible for all Boston residents. Jan Mutchler

“It has never been more critical to strategically pursue greater equity in the aging experience of Boston residents,” says Jan Mutchler, PhD, director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at UMass Boston, a professor in the Department of Gerontology and one of the study’s authors. “The numbers of older adults are increasing and stakeholders share a growing recognition of the powerful ways in which inequity, racism, and discrimination shape health outcomes and the aging experience, amplifying the need to examine and remediate disparities in aging.”

The report identifies substantial disparities across racial and ethnic groups, such as:

Economic security

  • Poverty rates are especially high among Asian Americans and Latinos, and more than one-third of these residents age 60 or older live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line.
  • Sizable gaps differentiate racial groups. For example, while a similar share of non-Hispanic White, Black and Native American people aged 66 or older receive Social Security benefits, percentages receiving Social Security are considerably lower for Latinos and Asian Americans.
  • Housing costs in Boston place a heavy burden on older residents and half or more of renters age 60 or older pay more than 30% of their incomes for housing. Fewer homeowners bear such a heavy cost burden for housing, but older Black, Latino and Native American homeowners are at amplified risk for being cost-burdened.

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Transforming the Future of Aging

Bei Wu works toward improving health status through research and policy

If the world of academic gerontology had a rock star, it would be Bei Wu, MS ‘97, PhD ’00.

Recognized for her extensive research and pursued by top tier universities, Wu has become an international leader in the field since graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Department of Gerontology. Add the years in policy work before earning her doctorate and Wu chuckles that, having spent more than half of her life in the field of gerontology, she herself is now experiencing the aging process.

“I’ve become my own study subject,” Wu says.

Today, Wu is the Director of Global Health and Aging Research at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and Director for Research at the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University (NYU) and the inaugural co-director of NYU’s Aging Incubator, a university-wide aging initiative.

Given her considerable success in gerontology, it’s fitting she credits her grandmother — with whom she was extremely close — for nudging her into the field. Born in Shanghai, Wu’s parents left her and her brother in their grandparents’ care when the two were young. After college, Wu accepted a research position with the Shanghai Commission on Aging only after prompting by her grandmother.

“At the time, very few people thought aging would be a challenging issue in the future,” Wu says.

But writing policy briefs and launching studies on intergenerational support with the United Nations Population Fund convinced Wu to pursue graduate studies. With no options available in China, she chose UMass Boston.

“UMass Boston has had a significant impact on my career,” Wu says. “The gerontology program has a critical mass of excellent faculty.” Continue reading

Pension Rights

Help is available to secure your pension

Whether your retirement is close at hand or years away, you’re likely counting on savings and other income sources you’ve maintained to provide you with a comfortable and secure life after working for years. If you’re counting on a pension, take steps now to make certain it’s in place and available when you decide to retire.

A defined benefit pension is a retirement plan that may provide monthly income for the rest of your life. Pensions are sponsored by your employer and provided to you based on your years of service, compensation and other factors. Unlike a 401(k), the employer bears all of the risk and responsibility for funding the pension plan. But, employers can make mistakes.

Take the case of William, a Pension Action Center client.

William worked for a company outside of Chicago off and on for about 20 years. He had two breaks in service that resulted from factory-wide reductions in force. After the first layoff, he was recruited back, because the factory needed someone with his specialized skills. When he was laid off again, he had worked about 12 years in total, and was fully vested in the company’s pension plan.

In the mid-1980s, the company that owned the factory decided to close it down permanently. The company again recruited William back to help with the closure. He understood that his brief return would increase his pension benefit at retirement.

But the employer made a big mistake. When personnel matters were wrapped up for the remaining factory employees, William’s service credit for his pension was recorded based on his short return to his employer to close down the factory. The employer did not credit him with the 12 years of service from earlier in his career. As a result, William was not included on the list of employees who had earned a pension. Continue reading

Raising awareness, enabling support for unpaid caregivers

Family caregivers have an important job; supporting their needs will make their work and lives easier

Imagine caring for a child with medically-complex special needs while balancing responsibilities for other family members and trying to maintain a full-time job. Or, consider caring for a parent with dementia whose needs take time away from one’s own family and work.

These are examples of family caregivers —unpaid, and often, untrained — who help parents, spouses, children and adults with disabilities, and other family members with varied needs such as bathing and dressing, managing medications and more complex medical care, and everyday tasks such as preparing meals and keeping track of finances. These are just a few examples of the work they take on so their loved one can receive the care and supervision needed and remain at home.

There are more than 43 million people nationwide who serve as unpaid caregivers. The tasks caregivers take on, as well as the caregivers themselves, are diverse. Given the critical role they play in the continuum of care, it is important to understand how to assist and support their work. To do this, the National Academy for State Health Policy contracted with the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston and Community Catalyst to learn what specific services and supports caregivers need and to develop recommendations for change.

Pamela Nadash, PhD, Associate Professor of Gerontology at the LeadingAge LTSS Center at UMass Boston and Eileen J. Tell, a Gerontology Institute Fellow, the project’s co-leads, were part of the team that analyzed the more than 1600 responses.

The research team began by analyzing over 1600 responses from family caregivers and caregiver organizations collected from a recent Request for Information (RFI). The RFI asked respondents to talk about their most pressing needs or concerns as a caregiver and what they would specifically recommend to address those concerns. Continue reading

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

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Lisa Gurgone on Supporting Area Agencies That Provide Elder Services

Lisa Gurgone is the executive director of Mass Home Care, the trade association representing the Commonwealth’s network of 28 Aging Services Access Points (ASAPs) and Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs). This single, statewide network of coordinated care delivers home and community based services to over 60,000 individuals per month, providing over $600 million per year in services.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman spoke with Gurgone recently about home care services and how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected both consumers and workers providing care. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Len FishmanLen Fishman: What would a composite profile of a consumer you serve look like?

 

 

 

Lisa GurgoneLisa Gurgone: The typical age is 82 and about one in five are 90 or older. About 55 percent live alone. We have a lot of women with basic homecare needs, someone to help with shopping and food prep. They may need some bathing assistance or have trouble getting dressed in the morning. People sometimes stay in our system for a very long time and may need additional services as they age. We might sub-contract with a visiting nurses association to provide more skilled care. It runs the gamut but the goal is to help these people stay in the community as long as they want. Continue reading

Studying Relationships Between Older Adults and Their Parents Living With Dementia

Kathrin BoernerRelationships between senior children and their very old parents can be complicated enough. How does those relationships change when the parent is living with dementia?

UMass Boston Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner has spent two years studying the relationships between older adults and their parents, an increasingly common phenomena involving people in their 60’s and 70’s with parents living well into their 90’s. The ongoing project has already attracted broad interest and media coverage in The New York Times and The Boston Globe.

The study’s original design, funded by the National Institute on Aging, was based exclusively on interviews with senior children and their parents together. But researchers found they had to turn away a significant number of volunteering senior children whose parents, living with dementia, could not be interviewed. They were missing an important part of the story. Continue reading

COAs and COVID-19: Managing New Issues on Communications, Food Security and Volunteerism

Bread in Bridgwater

Among many volunteers, a retired Bridgwater State University professor baked bread for distribution through his local COA.

The Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging is publishing a series of blog posts to follow the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Councils on Aging across Massachusetts.  We encourage COA readers to tell us about their experiences or responses to blog posts by using the reply box at the bottom of each post.

It’s a good thing Zoom and lots of other communications technology exists these days. But the old-fashioned telephone is also playing important role in the plans councils on aging are following to keep in touch with their elder residents.

In Bridgewater, the Fire Department is assisting to help identify phone numbers from census data for over 5,000 residents who are age 60 or older. Those numbers are being used to make wellness calls, but also develop a huge database for town’s emergency response protocol.

In Billerica, volunteers are making about 150 calls each week to check in with elder residents and evaluate their needs.

“During calls to check on patrons, they are so grateful to be remembered,” said Billerica COA Director Jean Bushnell. “It was remarkable to discover that care and concerned flowed both ways, they were actually worried about our staff.” Continue reading

COAs and COVID-19: How Councils Are Adapting to Serve Their Communities

The Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging is launching a series of blog posts to follow the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Councils on Aging across Massachusetts. Posts reporting on conversations with COA directors about how they manage the evolving COVID-19 challenge will appear on the Gerontology Institute Blog. We encourage COA readers to tell us about their experiences or responses to blog posts by using the reply box at the bottom of each post. 

 How do you deal with a problem as overwhelming as the coronavirus pandemic? David Stevens prefers to think about that answer in phases.

Stevens, the executive director of the Massachusetts Councils on Aging (MCOA), has been leading an effort to provide support, coordinate resources and lead communication with his 350 member-COAs since the COVID-19 crisis gripped the state. Continue reading

How Healthy Aging Data Report Can Contribute to Fight Against COVID-19 in Massachusetts

Beth Dugan, Nina Silverstein, Chae Man Lee

Left to right, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, professor Nina Silverstein and post-doctoral assistant Chae Man Lee.

A research team at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute published its most recent edition of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report late in 2018. The report provided detailed information on the health status of older adults across the state. The team, led by associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, also collected a massive amount of local data contained in the report’s 379 separate community profiles.

The Gerontology Institute Blog recently spoke with Dugan and two other team members — professor Nina Silverstein and post-doctoral assistant Chae Man (Jay) Lee — about the report and how it could contribute to the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading