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Viewpoint from the Commonwealth

Making life better for people with dementia and their care partners

Secretary Alice BonnerSecretary Alice BonnerA top priority for the Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) is promoting the best possible quality of life for individuals living with dementia and their care partners.

An estimated 5.3 million people age 65 and older in the United States suffer from Alzheimer’s disease or related dementias, including an estimated 130,000 right here in Massachusetts. The number of Massachusetts residents with Alzheimer’s is expected to rise to 150,000 by the year 2025, and continue to grow in the decades that follow. Because of this, we must prepare for many more people in our families and our Commonwealth living with some form of dementia.

Our ability to make those preparations got a big boost late last month when Governor Baker signed a new law that will make Massachusetts a national leader in addressing the impacts of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The law, An Act relative to Alzheimer’s and related dementias, will strengthen the Commonwealth’s Age and Dementia Friendly movements by:

  • Creating an advisory council and integrated state plan to effectively address Alzheimer’s disease
  • Requiring content about Alzheimer’s and related dementias be incorporated into continuing education requirements for physicians, physician assistants, and nurses in order renew their licenses
  • Allowing doctors to share an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and treatment plan with a family member or legal representative within existing state and federal privacy laws
  • Requiring hospitals that serve adults to have a plan in place to assist in the recognition and management of patients with dementia within three years of the law’s enactment
  • Requiring elder protective services caseworkers to be trained on Alzheimer’s

This new law will help ensure that we are doing our best to improve the quality of care and quality of life of hundreds of thousands of families impacted by dementia.

During the ceremonial bill signing with legislative leaders and advocates, Governor Baker said, “Raising awareness about Alzheimer’s and dementia is key to supporting the Massachusetts families who are impacted by this horrible disease. This legislation will enhance efforts to train frontline caregivers on recognizing and treating dementia more effectively, and work with families of loved ones to prepare for and manage the effects of Alzheimer’s.”

Like many of you, I know about this issue all too well because, in addition to leading EOEA, I’m also a care partner for my mother, who is 88 years old and has Alzheimer’s. I’ve seen firsthand the challenges and stress that dementia can bring – both for the person with the condition and for those of us caring for them. However, being a care partner for someone with Alzheimer’s also brings opportunities and rewards.

I’m so proud to live and serve in a state that is such a leader in the Age and Dementia Friendly movements. Where our elected leaders and residents alike seize the many opportunities to support and enrich the lives of older people – recognizing how much they continue to contribute to our own lives and communities.

Want to get involved in making your community more welcoming to people with dementia?

Dementia Friends Massachusetts offers a one-hour information session on what dementia is and the simple things that you can do to support people living with the disease in your community. Find out more about attending a Dementia Friends information session.

Governor Baker’s Annual Speech and Budget Promote Strong Aging Agenda for Massachusetts

Secretary Alice BonnerSecretary Alice BonnerGovernor Charlie Baker delivered his State of the Commonwealth speech in January, and the next day filed his annual budget with the Legislature. Both actions contained good news for older people in every part of Massachusetts.

Massachusetts has been a leader in the development and delivery of aging services – and LifePath has been a shining example of that here in Western Massachusetts. However, our Commonwealth is at a crossroads. Today, we have more Massachusetts residents over the age of 60 than under the age of 20. This change in demographics offers Massachusetts an opportunity to lead the nation by developing innovative policies and solutions that help our residents age and thrive in the communities where they live, work and volunteer.

Recognizing the many contributions of older people, in April of 2017 the Governor issued an executive order establishing the Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts. The Council is tasked with advising the Administration on policies, community resources, best practices, and informal supports to promote healthy aging in Massachusetts. The Council recently delivered a comprehensive blueprint of initial recommendations based on the first year of its work which you can read here.

Building on that momentum, in this year's State of the Commonwealth speech the Governor announced that Massachusetts has been designated by the AARP as only the second state in the country to join that organization’s Age-Friendly Network. This designation commits our state to a continued path of progress in making Massachusetts more livable and welcoming for older adults and people of all ages.

It is also a great boost to work already underway.  As of 2017, 88 communities across the state have achieved, were working towards or beginning efforts to make their cities and towns Age and Dementia-Friendly.

In addition, the Baker-Polito budget for FY19 includes a $17 million increase for Elders Affairs. This includes a $2.9 million increase in funding that support the work of local Councils on Aging. This will provide more than $16 million to Councils on Aging next year – the highest level of state support ever. The Administration’s budget also includes a $7.4 million increase for the State Home Care Program and a $4.7 million increase for the Community Choices program to help keep older residents with chronic health care needs in their homes for as long as possible. The budget also includes a $2.7 million increase for the Protective Services Program, which receives and investigates reports of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.

Taken together, all of this is good news for those of us who want to live, work and age well in Massachusetts. Our Commonwealth is moving towards a more Age-Friendly future, and that is good news for Massachusetts residents of all ages.

National Employ Older Workers Week

Secretary Alice BonnerAlice Bonner, Secretary, Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (Guest Contributor)

With advances in longevity, older adults are living longer than ever. For the first time since 1948, employees old enough to retire outnumber teenagers in the workforce, according to AARP. And the desire to stay engaged has never been so strong. Older workers are increasingly staying employed in the workforce and looking for their “third acts,” to stay engaged, make a difference, and finance their longer retirement years. The number of Americans age 50+ who are working or looking for work has grown significantly over the past decade, and is expected to continue to increase. More than 4.5 million Americans aged 50 to 70 are pursuing their “encore careers.”

National Employ Older Workers Week, held annually the last week of September, recognizes the vital role of older workers in the workforce. Older Workers Week aims to increase awareness of this labor segment and develop innovative strategies to tap into their potential.

At the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) focuses on the most vulnerable workers by providing on-the-job skills training for individuals 55 or older with limited financial resources, educational background, and work skills. A perfect example is shown in the story of Emma Harris:

Two years ago, Emma Harris, 66, could no longer continue to keep up with the physical demands of her cashier job and was out of work. Not having office skills, Emma enrolled in to the SCSEP program and took classes in Microsoft Office. To practice her new computer skills she was placed into on-the-job training at an organization called New Direction, a pregnancy and sexual health resource office in North Adams, Mass. There she greeted and assisted anxious young women, and also learned how to manage client database systems. After some time, Emma was offered a permanent position with New Direction and joined their dedicated team. “Emma is a delight to our clients, their families, and her co-workers,” says her supervisor.

Employers have also seen the benefits of employing older workers. Mature Caregivers, headquartered in Waltham, Mass., employs people age 50+ to care for people age 75+. A mature worker often has cared for children or their own aging parents. Professionally, they are ready for a change, to something part-time, less physically taxing and more personally rewarding. Families often appreciate a mature caregiver’s professional background – and the standards that go along with that, such as punctuality and good communication skills.

Locally, the Franklin Hampshire Career Center in Greenfield, Mass., offers job search assistance and potential training to mature workers. Workshops include “Job Search Strategies for Mature Workers” along with ones covering resume and cover letter writing, interviewing skills, using applying for jobs online, and more. View the workshop calendar. To find SCSEP assistance at the Career Center, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., Catholic Charities senior aide job developer for Franklin County, or call 413-774-4361 x315, or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., employment specialist for Hampshire County at the Springfield Department of Elder Affairs’ Senior AIDES Program, or 413-787-6503.

Dementia Friendly Massachusetts supports families living with dementia

Secretary Alice BonnerAlice Bonner, Secretary, Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (Guest Contributor)As Secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs in Massachusetts, I am especially pleased to recognize the recent efforts of LifePath to improve the lives of individuals living with dementia and their caregivers. 

The Administration commends these efforts, and plans to continue supporting this innovative work with initiatives and partnerships in Franklin County and throughout the Commonwealth. 

More than 120,000 Massachusetts residents are living with dementia, a condition affecting the brain and body that may include memory loss, personality changes, and difficulty planning and communicating. Stigma and lack of public awareness about dementia can lead to isolation among families and their loved ones living with dementia. 

Dementia Friendly Massachusetts (DFMI) is a new initiative involving many partners; efforts to date include programs to train law enforcement and public safety officials, as well as home health aides and family caregivers. 

The initiative focuses on individuals with all types of dementia – Alzheimer’s (the most common form) and less common types such as frontotemporal lobe dementia or FTD. And while dementia is often associated with older adults, over 200 people in our state develop dementia before they are 65 years old. 

DFMI has conducted outreach to interested communities, with special attention to specific sectors such as businesses, hotels, restaurants, and health care, and has provided information and technical support for all who are ready to get involved. 

Going forward, DFMI will introduce new videos and other materials in order to heighten the overall awareness of dementia among everyone living in our communities. 

We will also be trying to enhance sensitivity to people living with this condition, as part of an overarching goal of creating an environment of inclusivity for individuals living with dementia in each of our cities, towns and neighborhoods. 

This can only be accomplished through multiple, effective partnerships. Jewish Family & Children’s Services, for instance, has been leading a strong campaign to create participation at the grassroots, community level. The DFMI website has specific information on how to get started. 

LifePath's Dementia Caregivers Support Groups, dementia coaching and work with the Alzheimer’s Music Project represents examples of the importance of local initiatives. 

We have also been building on work by national organizations such as Dementia Friendly America: Their website has engaging information and visual material, as well as a handy ‘tool kit’ for getting started with community involvement. 

There is tremendous activity and enthusiasm all over the Commonwealth. And that’s my point: the Baker-Polito administration is encouraging and supporting initiatives that are being implemented on a local basis, in Franklin County, in the North Quabbin, and throughout the State. 

More information is available at, with links to how each and every person in the Commonwealth can become better aware of dementia and take steps to welcome individuals living with dementia and their caregivers into our communities. Thanks for all you do to support our families living with dementia in your community!

Alice Bonner, Secretary, Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs (Guest Contributor)