Speakers highlight issues of R.I. elderly population

The lecture called attention to Alzheimer’s and demanded greater youth engagement

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Director of the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs Catherine Taylor called on students and local residents to boost local awareness about Alzheimer’s disease and other issues facing the elderly in a lecture Monday night.

Stephen Gresham ’83, adjunct lecturer in public policy, urged those in attendance to consider that Alzheimer’s kills twice as many people as breast and prostate cancer combined each year. But the funds afforded to researchers combating Alzheimer’s, he added, are less than those afforded to cancer researchers.

The first step in raising awareness and activism about issues facing the elderly and those with disabilities, Taylor said, is to “get us all thinking of older people and people with disabilities as ‘us’ and not ‘them.’”

Taylor said young people need to respect the elderly and put themselves in senior citizens’ shoes.

“Think about yourself,” she said. “Where would you like to live when you’re 85 years old?”

Providence resident Greta Abbott, a senior citizen who has been involved in community volunteer work since she was a student at Columbia, encouraged Brown students to also volunteer.

“I learn about other communities, other worlds because I’ve volunteered,” she said. “All of it has so much to contribute to you.”

Student volunteer work may help to combat problems the Rhode Island elderly face. For example, “Rhode Island is woefully short on tools to deal with dementia,” Taylor said.

While acknowledging ongoing efforts to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, Taylor said it is important to “deal with folks who have Alzheimer’s and families helping them now.”

Students in Gresham’s course, PPAI 1701D: “Aging and Public Policy,” made up about half the audience and voiced their concerns for the elderly as well as interest in advancing Taylor’s cause.

Young people should consider the problems confronting the elderly, especially since the baby boomers have reached retirement age, said Jourdan Meltzer ’17, adding that students can learn by paying attention to the elderly and analyzing their experiences.

Ellie DiBiasio GS said she already likes working with and spending time with older adults.

“This class was a way for me to make it more academic,” she said.

Going forward, Taylor suggested Rhode Island “do things that retain our healthy elders,” who largely leave the state to establish residence in cheaper states like Florida. State property taxes would need to be lowered to give seniors an incentive to stay, Taylor added, but the tax cuts could bring in greater revenue with increases in the senior population’s spending and pension taxes.

Taylor also said “we need to work on how we view the profession of direct care worker,” adding that those to whom “we’re handing over the bodily care of our most vulnerable citizens” deserve greater respect and better wages.