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Aging in Community

Programs 284, 285

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Overview

Within a decade, America will be looking different. In addition to other demographic changes, 70 million Baby Boomers are now entering their retirement years. For the first time in our history, there will be more older adults than children.

This huge societal change will affect how families provide eldercare, how older Americans access transportation, and whether people can age in their own homes among neighbors they know — and avoid nursing facilities, where about 30% of Covid-19 deaths occurred.

These shifts will accelerate a trend that began three decades ago with passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act: local communities are attempting to become more age-friendly. What changes will this mean for how families relate, how our streets and sidewalks are designed, how we use technology?

On Aging in Community, a special project from Humankind public radio, you’ll hear stories of transition and dignity — and meet people who are showing the way.

Melvin Lewis (L) with Dave Sevick, Computer Reach

Melvin Lewis (L) with Dave Sevick, Computer Reach

I think the biggest problem is isolation. [Older adults] don’t feel connected to the community or their families.”

— Dave Sevick

Supported by The RRF Foundation for Aging, The John A. Hartford Foundation and The Boston Foundation, and by the Humankind Program Fund. In association with Documentary Educational Resources and WGBH/Boston. Recording engineer: Antonio Oliart Ros. Communication Director: Jacques Klapisch. Special thanks to Ken Rogers, Noel Flatt, David Cruz, Brian K. Johnson, Cathy Graham, Steve Martin, Jake Cavicchi, Laura Carlo, Haggerty Media, Wesley Family Services and Tony Buck.

Laura Poskin, Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh

Laura Poskin, Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh

Part 1: Connecting to Community

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has cited the region around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as especially attentive to the needs of older adults.

Through a series of events called the Crossings, sponsored by Age-Friendly Greater Pittsburgh, local activists have worked with city officials to make crossing the street safer for elders. It was a relief for one older woman who for years had been afraid to venture into the crosswalk at her building, since several neighbors had been hit by cars there.

Patricia Hill and Ally Evelyn-Gustave, CAPABLE

Patricia Hill (L) and Ally Evelyn-Gustave, CAPABLE

Another need being addressed by a local Pittsburgh-area nonprofit, Computer Reach, is online access, which became practically a lifeline for older adults when the coronavirus struck. We also meet a volunteer who regularly visits a retired man, helping him shop, do errands and provide friendly company, through Wesley Family Services.

Jim Schultz and volunteer Mark Hall

Jim Schultz (L) and volunteer Mark Hall

And we visit the home of a Baltimore-area elder, who benefitted from an innovative free service known as CAPABLE, operated by Johns Hopkins University, which provides an occupational therapist, a nurse and a handyworker to modify the homes of older residents to improve safety.

Aging in your community is possible for a lot of people, but you have to have the supports, the infrastructure to be able to do that.”

— Laura Poskin

From the moment we [occupational therapists] step on a person’s front porch, we are looking for things that could cause a problem, whether it’s a shaky rail or a slippery step.”

— Ally Evelyn-Gustave

Jill Hall, Baltimore County Dept. of Aging

Jill Hall, Baltimore County Dept. of Aging

Part 2: Participants

We’ll meet members of the Seven Oaks Senior Center outside Baltimore. Nearly 10,000 of these centers now operate across the United States, serving over a million older adults each day. They have become a vibrant fixture of age-friendly communities. Many offer classes, social events, exercise equipment, and a network of friends — who become important, especially if a member has lost a spouse or re-located from elsewhere.

Jon Duvall, Veterans Administration and Univ. of Pittsburgh

Jon Duvall, Veterans Administration and Univ. of Pittsburgh

The vast majority of older adults experience one or more health challenge. We’ll hear the story of Jon Duvall, PhD, a researcher in assistive technology, who is a wheelchair user. He draws on his experience surviving a spinal cord injury. At the Univ. of Pittsburgh Human Engineering Laboratories, Jon develops and tests devices that help people with disabilities, including elders, to participate in society.

Janet Seckel-Cerrotti, FriendshipWorks

Janet Seckel-Cerrotti, FriendshipWorks

We also learn about the history of federal programs, including Social Security and Medicare, that have been established to help Americans sixty-five or older and remain remarkably popular with the public.

Edwin Walker, Deputy Asst. Secy. for Aging, HHS

Edwin Walker, Deputy Asst. Secy. for Aging, HHS

And we chat with a woman who has devoted her life to serving older adults, including her efforts at FriendshipWorks, a Boston-based program, which matches elders with usually younger companions. She aims to foster greater connections, which can counteract loneliness often experienced by older adults living alone.

[At senior centers] you can volunteer, you can teach, you can just socialize with people.”

— Jill Hall

It was actually my doctor who said, ‘Have you considered rehab engineering?’”

— Jon Duvall

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