Op-ed: Ensuring our seniors age with dignity

In MassLive 10/26/15

During a recent visit to the Ludlow Senior Center, I spent time chatting with local residents about everything from new grandchildren to the rising cost of prescription drugs.

These conversations are important, especially since our Commonwealth’s population is aging at a rapid pace. By 2035, nearly a third of Massachusetts residents will be over 60. These demographics are even more pronounced in Western Mass, which is older than the state as a whole. Policymakers need to be prepared for this change.

That’s why I joined the Legislature’s Committee on Elder Affairs. In my role on that committee, I regularly talk with seniors in our area. The main lesson I’ve learned is that seniors and their families require special attention and creative approaches from their elected leaders.

In Belchertown, for example, I spoke with a woman from the Pine Valley Plantation, a senior housing community, who was concerned about prescription drug costs and limited transportation. At a community dinner at the Hampden Senior Center, I spoke with families doing their best to care for aging parents.

One of the most important ways to support seniors and their families is ensuring each community has a high-quality senior center. These facilities serve as one-stop locations for everything from daily meals to health screenings, exercise classes and transportation. They make our communities more attractive places to live and allow people to remain in their homes longer, enhancing our neighborhoods and property values.

New senior centers in Chicopee, East Longmeadow and other communities do a great job of providing these vital services, but we can do more to bring them to all residents regardless of where they live. As a significant first step, I co-sponsored a successful budget amendment that brought a large funding increase to our Councils on Aging, who organize and run each community senior center. I’m also a strong supporter of the new Springfield Senior Center being built near Blunt Park.

In addition, I know that many seniors are worried about housing costs. That’s why I’ve worked closely with town, state and private sector officials on a new senior housing development in the Ludlow Mills, and support the eventual development of senior housing at the former State School site in Belchertown.

Many seniors want to stay in their homes as long as possible, but have a hard time accessing vital healthcare and home support services. To help, I’m supporting a Senate bill that takes steps to improve the quality of these services, including Alzheimer’s care and physical therapy.

On a visit to the East Longmeadow Senior Center, I rode along with a Meals on Wheels volunteer, delivering dozens of meals to homebound seniors. Along the way I had the chance to chat with many of the meal recipients and hear a bit about their lives. We certainly have a lot to learn from our seniors – they’ve spent a lifetime living and working in our communities.

It’s our solemn obligation to ensure that all members of our community age with dignity. Everyone has a role to play, including our policy-makers at the State House.

Senator Eric P. Lesser is a member of the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, which reviews and promotes policies affecting seniors in the Commonwealth.

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