Healthy aging task force will identify issues facing Island


Updated 2:06 pm, Monday, May 19, 2014 to reflect correction, below.

Martha’s Vineyard’s changing demographics — residents aged 65 and over are projected to comprise one-third of the Island population by 2030 — represent an unmet challenge that is the focus of the recently formed Healthy Aging Task Force which will present the findings from seven work groups at a public meeting on Thursday, May 22, at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center in Vineyard Haven.

Among the findings, more than 25 percent of Martha’s Vineyard residents are active caregivers to Island elders in a community where 47 percent of age 65 and over households have incomes of less than $30,000 per year.

The Island’s population is aging more rapidly than the state and the nation. The work of the task force has attracted the attention of Ann Hartstein, Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs, who will attend the session and address the state’s 2014-2017 Plan on Aging.

The meeting will be held between 9 am and 12:30 pm, and is designed to update residents, Island service providers, and town officials on the findings from Healthy Aging work groups on topics that include transportation, workforce and affordable elder housing, caregiver support, community engagement and other prevention resources and the challenges in health care, mental health and delivery of human services, including a one-stop referral directory.

Task Force meetings last October attracted more than 80 people from more than 50 Island service agencies and service providers. The task force evolved from findings presented in a Rural Scholars report on Island aging completed in 2013 by medical school students at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester.

“Each group has been researching and mapping what’s in place currently, and developing plans for the future,” task force co-chairman Paddy Moore said this week. “It is exciting, and to learn the number of caregivers on this Island is shocking, but it allows us to know how much we rely on volunteers.”

Ms. Moore is also a member of the Dukes County Health Council. She defined a caregiver as a person who spends 20 or more hours a week providing care to others. “The average length of caregiving is 4.5 years, but some care giving situations have a 10- or 15-year duration,” she said.

“To date, the housing work group, working with Island affordable housing groups, have developed changes to housing bylaws in our towns,” Ms. Moore said. “Proposals will be ready to be heard at annual town meetings next spring. Housing is not just an elder problem. We need (to attract) younger people who can provide medical and home care.

“We have received an anonymous gift for a feasibility study to look at two ‘Green Houses,’ independent group living homes. That study will be completed by next spring. We also have grants for self-care programs for topics like improving sense of balance, the fourth leading cause of senior death, for nutrition and other self-care initiatives.”

Ms. Moore said that task force members have been working on the initiative since November. “We invite everyone to share their findings with us,” she said.

Correction: The story as published on May 15, 2014 contained an error: Paddy Moore is a member of the Dukes County Health Council, but not an executive director. Dave Caron is the executive director.