Healthy Aging Task Force survey is in the mail

Almost 5,000 Island seniors have an opportunity to voice their concerns.

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Paddy Moore holds a survey envelope. She is looking for plenty of cooperation as the Healthy Aging Task Force prepares to take the pulse of Island seniors. — Photo by Edie Prescott

Nearly 5,000 Island seniors this month have an opportunity to weigh in on desired elder care services through a questionnaire now in the mail from the Island’s Healthy Aging Task Force (HATFMV).

Paddy Moore, executive director of the task force, said last week that the 14-page, 50-question anonymous survey — one of the final pieces of a two-year effort to determine elder needs — has been sent to 4,860 Island residents ages 65 or older. Ms. Moore, a health care mediator, facilitator, and consensus builder, is also the director of the Dukes County Health Council.

Ms. Moore said she expects the findings to be gathered and analyzed for a public presentation in early December.

The task force is seeking input on areas it considers critical to aging health care, including housing, transportation, state of respondent’s health and wellness, employment, community engagement, receiving and giving elder care help and services, access to health care, and physical access to public places. The survey also includes queries to caregivers and asks respondents about their individual life situations in regard to finances and resources.

The survey’s introduction notes that “the island’s 65-plus population is expected to more than double in the next 15 years, and we want to be prepared. This is an opportunity to voice your needs and opinions, and ultimately improve your quality of life as you age on the Vineyard.”

Researchers from Brandeis University, Waltham, are helping HATFMV to administer and

analyze the survey, which may be completed in the mailed hard copy or online at

cyc.brandeis.edu/healthyaging.html, which includes instructions. Ms. Moore said that residents may also get help from staffers at the Island Council on Aging Centers.

The questions in the survey reflect work done by several HATFMV working groups that formed after a 2013 study by the UMass Medical School, which described a “gray tsunami” — a rapidly aging Island population over the next decade, in which 30 percent of residents will be 65 or over. The study also outlined the community changes and services that that population will require.

Ms. Moore said her introduction to the issues related to the aging of America was a 2008 national Institute of Medicine publication on the shortage of health care workers trained to deal with the geriatric population. “It found a shocking lack of aging-health-care professionals nationally,” she said in a telephone interview this week. After working with the national Eldercare Workforce Alliance, she said, “I thought every state needs to do this, in light of what’s coming.” On the Island, helped by a series of grants — including assistance from the Island-wide Donors Collaborative — the ball began rolling, and took shape as the HATFMV organization, which brought together dozens of service agencies and health care institutions late in 2013.

“The [UMass Rural Scholar project] findings were too big to cover in one group, so we organized six groups,” Ms. Moore said. “One of the major outcomes to date was development of a one-stop health care information source called First Step. The website is under development, and will be up by December. It’s comprehensive and identifies a point person to contact in each town.”

HATFMV research over the past two years has produced pragmatic solutions, such as a venture with the Vineyard Transit Authority to provide senior transport to Falmouth for medical specialists, as well as identification of needed medical specialities on-Island, such as diabetes and neural specialist physicians, and problems like falling. “Did you know falls are the fourth leading cause of death among seniors nationally?” Ms. Moore said. That’s particularly important on-Island because, “since 2013, the rate of falls in the three down-Island towns [Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury] are above both the state and national averages, so fall-prevention programs are important,” she said.

HATFMV has been exploring housing needs of caregivers and challenges of householding for seniors, and has identified concepts such as “green houses” used in other areas of the country, which is a small-scale model of assisted living limited to 10 to 12 residents, with different staffing needs from traditional nursing homes. HATFMV will be doing a feasibility study to see if green houses would work on the Vineyard. Another option is enabling seniors to stay in their own home by helping them find someone to share it with, including caregivers. Often, this model might include adding an accessory apartment into which the elder might move. Caregivers, often hard-pressed to find affordable housing on the Island, might inhabit the rest of the house.

“The response of Island groups and many, many volunteers has been remarkable, and we look forward to response from Island seniors,” she said.