For West Roxbury seniors, home is the place to grow
By Lucy Sutherland
most compelling reason to live at home is the longer,
better life it can bring.
Her words resonate.
“I like to be independent – not that I’m being
mean, or fresh, or anything,” the bubbly great-grandmother
said on a shopping expedition at Roche Bros. supermarket in West
her mid-80s and still living in the house she’s occupied
for decades, she reflects the dogged independence of many West
Roxbury seniors these days.
More and more, they are choosing to grow old in their own homes.
West Roxbury, with its high-quality public transportation, abundant
retail stores and plentiful social network, is an ideal neighborhood
to grow old as independently as possible.
Dr. Frank Caro, director of the Gerontology
Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, said
West Roxbury is distinctive for
its predominantly single-family homes. “They’re not
enormous, and they’re relatively manageable [for elders],” Caro
Phyllis and Robert Liljegren, 75 and 77, respectively, have owned
their home at 48 Manthorne Road in West Roxbury for 43 years.
“We enjoy this area very much. [It’s] close to shopping
areas and churches,” said Phyllis Liljegren.
“We have wonderful neighbors,” Robert Liljegren added. “They’ve
been our neighbors for a long time. Everyone looks after each other.”
Even for seniors in their 80s and 90s, owning a home and having
a close social network can embolden them to opt out of nursing
homes, assisted-living facilities and other more institutional
|West Roxbury’s suburban character
forces some elders to walk
“I think elders have the right to self-determination. As
long as they are capable of making their own decisions, they should
be able to make their own decisions,” said Marjorie Gann,
care management director of Ethos, a largely state-funded organization
that helps elders to live in their own homes in southwest Boston. “I
think there’s a right to age where you have lived, surrounded
by your belongings and the way you wish to live.”
State-funded Ethos, which is regulated by the division of Health
and Human Services, subcontracts with various vendors to help homebound
elders make meals, bathe, houseclean, shop and other tasks of daily
Cynthia Fey, director of Home Instead Senior Care in West Roxbury,
said most seniors who opt to stay at home experience far fewer
cognitive disabilities and have a better quality of life.
The number of residents 65 and over in West Roxbury has doubled
from 1990 to 2000, while other age groups have declined or remained
the same, according to the 2000 Census. The same report also shows
that 40 percent of West Roxbury homeowners are seniors.
Fey said she suspects that the vast majority of seniors in West
Roxbury are living in their own homes, either alone or with family,
though she was unable to provide hard numbers.
Many in this exploding group are longtime
homeowners with deep roots in the community. “They’ve lived in their homes
for 30 to 50 years, and their children are still in the area,” said
A growing business field
With government-mandated organizations such as Ethos, taxpayer
money can be used to aid elders living at home and to monitor the
range and quality of services. And with the help of state funds,
these services cost just a few hundred dollars a month for most
“A lot of private agencies make you buy four hours [of service]
at a clip, per day, and that gets expensive,” Gann said.
But private agencies, despite their higher prices, are also growing
in West Roxbury and beyond. In the last few years, private sector
companies like Home Instead Senior Care have been capitalizing
on the quickly expanding market for senior home assistance.
Home Instead has expanded from about 350 locations nationally
to nearly 500 in the last four years. In West Roxbury, business
is brisk and the client list is expanding, said Fey.
For many served by this growing market of public and private help,
the most compelling reason is independence and quality of life.
“I think our oldest client is 106…you don’t
expect someone of 106 living at home,” Gann said. “With
a tremendous amount of help, she’s living at home.”
religious communities in West Roxbury keep elders connected
to their neighborhoods.
But there can be a down side, she
acknowledges. Living at home can contribute to isolation and
risk of injury, especially for
those who don’t consider themselves old, Gann said.
For these frail elders who don’t
have outside help, home life can be a minute-to-minute struggle
with daily living.
“You look at the number of houses built with tubs, which
means you’ve got to climb in that tub, climb out, even if
it’s got a shower,” Gann said. “Think what’s
involved, in terms of muscle strength.”
For most elders who are still enjoying life at home, the rewards
outweigh the challenges, especially for seniors who have a close
For Mary DeRoma, 84, living at home
works well because many of her friends have chosen to do the
same. DeRoma, who gives the occasional
whist party for neighborhood friends, said there are plenty of
places to go on other days. “Every day this week I’ve
been out,” she said.