Mass. Secretary of Elder Affairs praises Vineyard volunteers

Ann Hartstein, the Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs. — courtesy Massachusetts Department of Elderly Affairs

Declaring herself delighted to arrive on the sunny Vineyard after being delayed by fog at Logan Airport earlier, Ann Hartstein, Massachusetts Secretary of Elder Affairs, praised the volunteer work groups for their efforts.

“If this is what you’ve done for the first year I can’t wait to see what is going to come,” said Ms. Hartstein.

According to the Aging Agenda, attention from an early age to health care, diet, exercise, education, developing work skills, planning for future needs, and staying engaged in one’s community all contribute to laying groundwork for a healthy older age.

“People who volunteer stay healthy longer,” Ms. Hartstein noted, “as do people who don’t have a negative view of aging.” She went on to say that even chronic disease is a natural part of aging that does not need to have severe negative impacts on a person’s life. In many cases, what is called for is management and making various adjustments.

Ms. Hartstein emphasized the importance of supporting the ability of people to remain in their homes and their communities as they grow older. She said that making sure people have access to a range of community supports is crucial in this, and transportation plays a big role.

“I’ve been in the field for 40 years and the number one issue that always came up was transportation,” she said.

She pointed out that even when it appears that plenty of public transportation is available, it often does not truly serve the senior population. When an older person stops driving, he or she may well be unable to walk to a bus or shuttle stop, or even climb the steps into the vehicle.

“Elders need supportive transportation,” she said.

Ms. Hartstein reported that Governor Patrick’s administration strongly endorses enabling people to remain at home and out of hospitals and nursing facilities. She said these efforts have led to a drop in nursing home admissions in the state.

She acknowledged that many of the Vineyard work group initiatives, from fall prevention to transportation planning, housing efforts, and others, will support the goal of enabling seniors to remain at home.

A lively, brief question and answer session touched on a variety of topics.

In response to a final question from Paddy Moore, the secretary described her efforts on behalf of those living with Alzheimer’s.

“Alzheimer’s is a family disease, it’s a community disease,” said Ms. Hartstein.

She has partnered with the Alzheimer’s Association, Massachusetts and New Hampshire Chapter, to form an Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders State Plan Task Force.

Asked about potential state funds for the developing Healthy Aging Task Force projects, Ms. Hartstein responded with encouragement but regret, “You’re doing a great job of finding resources and we will help, but we don’t have a magic bullet.”

Related story on the meeting of the Healthy Aging Task Force is here.