West Roxbury

Independence, but not always bliss
Active seniors still face financial, health worries

By Lucy Sutherland

Worlds apart from the dependency that characterized previous generations’ latter years, elderly homeowners today are enjoying longer, more autonomous lives.

But growing old still has its challenges—both financial and physical.

A huge legion of people are growing very old.

“Money is a big concern,” said Marjorie Gann, care management director of Boston-based Ethos, a non-profit that helps elders live in their homes. “We’re talking about the very old; they’re over 80.”

For these senior homeowners, many of whom enjoyed well-paying jobs during their working lives, years and even decades of retirement have drained the value of retirement pensions.

“When they retired at 65, it was an adequate pension,” said Gann, of the typical problem. “At 85 it’s not adequate anymore.”

Almost no private pension is indexed to inflation, which decreases the purchasing power of a pension dramatically, according to the Alliance for Retired Americans. For example, even a decade of modest inflation – say 3 percent a year – makes a pension a third less valuable 10 years later.

Surprisingly, homeowners don’t sweat the highly-trumpeted battle over rising property taxes as much as they do the steep cost of housing repairs, according to Gann.

“If they need a new roof, if they need to get the house painted, anything like that, then they really need their savings,” she said.

When it comes to seniors’ feelings about money, there’s high anxiety across the board, said Deborah Grose, program manager at the Boston Money Management Program, which helps seniors with daily money management such as balancing checkbooks.

As more elderly in southwest Boston choose to live at home, the demand for such volunteer services has doubled in the past two years, Grose said.

An activity a day keeps the doctor…and the worries… away

But for other active seniors living on their own, health is still the principal worry.

At a recent senior dance hosted by the VFW Parkway Seniors at the West Roxbury Elks Lodge, participant Alice Gillis admitted, “I’m getting to the point where I don’t say ‘How are you?’ anymore.” Gillis has grown tired of the long list of ailments that follow such a greeting.

Abundant retail shops in West Roxbury help seniors maintain
an independent lifestyle.

Ruth Nasman, program director for the Senior Place, an adult day health program, said seniors living at home often compromise their health by refusing to admit they need help.

“They put it off, put it off, and end up getting sicker in an emergency room,” said Nasman.

But West Roxbury senior Robert Liljegren, 77, isn’t shy about getting healthcare when he and his wife Phyllis, 75, need it. “We like to be near hospitals,” said Liljegren.

For many seniors, the answer to the constant stress of financial and physical straits is to stay as active as possible. And for many, staying active can be the key to staying happy and even dramatically improving themselves.

At the West Roxbury/Roslindale YMCA, trainer Amy Franz has seen a steady increase in the numbers of elderly who come to exercise. “The majority of them are independent, and have been active most of their lives,” said Franz.

Franz recalled member Rachel Larkin, a woman in her mid-80s who needed a quad-cane and couldn’t walk up stairs. In just a few months of strength training, she didn’t need her cane and was using stairs again.

Senior Mary DeRoma, a participant at regular VFW Parkway Seniors dances, characterizes her life as a hectic stream of activities she enjoys. “I’ve been very busy…every day this week I’ve been out,” DeRoma said. At 84, she lives alone and still drives.

As a favor to her niece, she chauffeurs her grandnephews and grandnieces to various activities. She also loves the full calendar of activities planned by the VFW Parkway Seniors and other elder organizations, such as parties, day trips and luncheons. “You don’t have time to go to all of them,” she says of the many senior events.

For many seniors, staying active can be the key to staying happy.

For DeRoma, staying at home keeps your mind on a worrying tack. “A lot of them, they’re always complaining,” she says of inactive seniors.

Senior Rose DeFilippo, who grew up in Hyde Park and now lives in Norwood, loves any kind of dancing—line dancing, ballroom, even the jitterbug.

“Where there’s dancing, you’ll find Rose! I love to dance,” DeFilippo said.

Said DeFilippo of her less active friends: “Some of them get depressed. You have to keep yourself active.”

More Stories

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For West Roxbury seniors, home is the place to grow old

All in a day’s work: Adult day health takes hold
Independence, but not always bliss




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