Making a Difference for Seniors
Older adults are at the highest risk for severe illness with COVID-19, and they are also among the fastest growing populations in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. By 2030, about 21% of the population in Massachusetts is expected to be 65 and older, according to state Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen), and in New Hampshire it’s projected to be about 33%. These numbers make the need for affordable housing, health care, and social services for older people crucial in the coming years, DiZoglio says.
Costs in housing communities for older adults are rising due to the pandemic. Additionally, Massachusetts is one of the most expensive places in the country to retire at $5,600 per month, according to DiZoglio, with New Hampshire not too far behind. Older adults can apply to receive Supplemental Security Income, providing cash for food, clothing and shelter.
Older people in Massachusetts who are struggling to locate affordable housing during the pandemic can apply for the RFP program. Or those who are members of MassHealth can apply for the Senior Care Options plan, which is a combined effort between Medicare and Medicaid to help older adults access health and social support services. There is also the Moving Forward Plan Community Living Waiver, which offers additional Medicaid benefits to cover room and board. There are multiple programs in New Hampshire that also offer financial support for seniors.
Although a growing number of older Americans are choosing to live at home, many require overnight care, and therefore must find affordable and safe housing. “A lot of our older populations are getting priced out of the areas they were born and raised in, and that’s simply unacceptable,” DiZoglio says.
Technological investments have contributed to increased housing costs, but they’ve also enabled facilities to keep residents connected with one another and loved ones during the pandemic.
“I had a resident whose granddaughter got married back in June out West somewhere, so we had a Zoom for her so that she could be on with all of her family members,” says Katrina Regan, the senior reflections and engagement director of The Residence at Salem Woods in Salem, N.H.
At Salem Woods, staff members check in with residents every day, and even spend one-on-one time with them, whether that is leading an exercise class or organizing their closets, since family members aren’t around. “We are way closer to all of our residents because of this pandemic,” Regan says.
Salem Woods and The Arbors at Dracut, an assisted living community in Massachusetts, have been using walkie-talkies to lead games such as bingo and to keep residents connected.
“Socializing is crucial to good cognitive mental health,” says Ted Doyle, the spokesperson for The Residence at Salem Woods.
According to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis, 25% of people over 65 said they experienced anxiety or depression in August 2020, more than twice what was reported in 2018.
“There are certainly negative impacts of not having the ability to hug a loved one, to hold a hand of a loved one, and to have that physical presence,” says DiZoglio, who believes older adults must be a priority for receiving the COVID-19 vaccine.
“When we got our first vaccine on Jan. 12, a lot of the residents were very, very emotional,” says Jonathan Athanas, regional executive director of The Arbors Assisted Living Communities. “It has been a long year for them to do without seeing their loved ones; being skeptical of anybody they interact with — because they know that they’re the most vulnerable.”