The Changing Face of Aging Well [Merrimack Valley Magazine]

The Changing Face of Aging Well

Today’s baby boomers think differently than earlier generations about what it means to age well. They want to remain independent, stay mentally and physically fit and maintain a wide array of interests. At the same time, achieving optimal health is no easy task for many of them, especially for those on fixed incomes who are challenged by the high cost of health care. 

Many boomers and other older adults ponder, “How do I continue being me and doing the things that I love when my income drops, my network gets smaller and many health care options are beyond my means?” says Bruce Jankowitz, director of marketing at Element Care, a nonprofit organization that provides health care to low-income adults 55 and older in the Merrimack Valley through its Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). “Today’s older adults want the best of both worlds,” continues Jankowitz, “[They want] health care that helps them to stay independent and live in their homes and communities for as long as possible and cool activities so they can continue to do the things they love.”   

Over the last few years, Element Care has used the PACE model to address the changing needs and expectations of its clients. Participants joining the program have access to services that help them stay active. For example, participants can receive avatar home companions — electronic pets such as virtual cats or dogs that operate on a 4G network. These electronic pets play games with their owners, provide reminders to exercise and take medications and allow 24/7 monitoring for signs of distress.

“About 25% [of participants] are using the new technology,” Jankowitz says. “From keeping them happy and active to reminding them to take their medication, Element Care is adapting to a new generation of boomers.”

Element Care’s other programs include cooking classes; the PACE Olympics; Latino music, dancing, dominoes and food in Lowell and Methuen; and special events for the Cambodian New Year including past performances by the Angkor Dance Troupe. 

“The paradigm for aging well is changing and Element Care continues to innovate to engage older adults of all ages and cultures,” says Jankowitz. This commitment to innovation is on display at the PACE Element Care wellness center on Central Street in Lowell and at Ingalls Court in Methuen. There, an entire team of clinical and social service professionals proactively manage the health care of their participants. Element Care provides everything they need to age well, including primary, specialty, hospital and dental care; physical and occupational therapy; transportation to all medical appointments; and hosting activities that address the changing needs of older adults. There are no monthly premiums, copays or out-of-pocket expenses for those who qualify for Medicare and MassHealth. Medicare only and private pay options are also available.

There are other challenges that face boomers at any income level. Their generation faces an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. Alzheimer’s and dementia rates are skyrocketing. Increased traffic congestion in our area can make it feel as though the roads are less safe (although this isn’t necessarily clear from the data). And who knows what changes to our health care system will create unforeseen consequences as more and more boomers head into retirement?

Still, what matters most is that boomers seem unwilling to accept the old stereotypes about what it means to live and thrive in life’s later decades. How they, and we as a society work together to facilitate this process is a challenge we avoid facing at our own peril