Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative 2021 Year in Review

While our state, community-based and organizational partners continue to respond to a constantly-evolving context, the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative is proud to convene a statewide cross-sector network of stakeholders that can share information, build partnerships and take collective action. The network continues to serve as an ecosystem for collaboration, partnership and productive dot-connecting – even in the face of seemingly perpetual adjustments.

In 2021, this network collectively worked to advance equity in aging, digital equity and the broader age- and dementia friendly movement, which provides benefits to people of all ages. MHAC continued to work with partners to support local and regional coalitions that each advance their unique brand of this movement.

Local age- and dementia friendly coalitions are engaging the community, highlighting needs, and are truly making an impact. Accessory Dwelling Unit policies passed in Salem and Arlington. The town of Sterling will be the first to intentionally incorporate age- and dementia friendly elements in their municipal master plan. Framingham was one of eight communities in the country to receive grant support from the Alzheimer’s Association and National Association of City and County Health Officials for increasing the health departments’ capacity to address cognitive health and dementia in their communities.

Appropriate for the past year, 21 cities and towns joined the AARP Network of age-friendly communities in 2021. Many more formally made a commitment to become more dementia friendly. Thanks to aligning strategies and resources, an increasing number of communities are pursuing both age- and dementia friendly. In total, 98 communities have made a commitment to becoming age-friendly and these designations include regional collaborations that encompass nearly 70 additional cities and towns in such efforts.

MHAC was grateful and excited to receive a new round of support from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation in 2021. In addition to the core work of MHAC, the funding will help to further the Collaborative’s “equity in aging” work and strengthen “protective factors” for older adults identified in a report on community response to COVID-19 that supports healthy aging.

MHAC is also grateful for the leaders on its Executive Committee, the passionate members of its extensive open-door Advisory Council and its key supporters and collaborators, including Massachusetts Councils on Aging Association, Executive Office of Elder Affairs, AARP Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan Foundation and AgeSpan.

The following activities represent highlights for MHAC’s work over the past year:

  • MHAC established and convenes an “Equity in Aging” Committee co-chaired by AARP Massachusetts and the Public Health Institute of Western Mass.
    • This group hosted webinars, including an education series called “Caring for Those Who Care,” which was led by the Diverse Elders Coalition and focused on supporting diverse caregivers.
    • This group co-hosted an Equity in Aging Twitter Chat with participants from across Massachusetts and the United States.
  • MHAC wrapped up its pilot of the Healthy Aging for All Guide, which is intended to embed equity, access and inclusion in local age- and dementia friendly efforts. The pilot was supported by the Healthy Aging Fund and the guide will continue to be refined based off the experience of the pilot communities.
  • MHAC continued to partner with the Mass. Department of Transportation (MassDOT) on maintaining the Shared Streets and Spaces Grant Program along with the inclusion of bonus points for projects that consider older adults.
    • In 2021, a total of $1,163,439 from this program was specifically targeted to enhance local infrastructure and public spaces for older adults (this does not take into account projects that implemented ADA compliant features).
  • MHAC worked to address digital equity and older adults.
    • MHAC presented the the state’s Broadband Equity Commission to amplify the work of communities and organizations in connecting older adults to technology and broadband.
    • MHAC was part of the Digital Equity Alliance – a Western Mass.-based group that released a report that included the work of communities that connected older adults with devices, internet access and skill-building.
    • MHAC worked with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to create a set of digital equity resources to help communities and stakeholders connect older adults to devices, internet access and skill-building.
    • MHAC worked with Pittsfield in its successful application to the Community Compact IT Grant program, which will establish a downtown public Wi-Fi network that will benefit older adults.
    • MHAC promoted partnerships between libraries that are loaning out hotspots with councils on aging and other age- and dementia friendly partners.
  • MHAC worked with the Massachusetts Adult Immunization Coalition (MAIC) to create a resource for older adults getting the COVID-19 vaccine/booster to learn about staying up-to-date on other critical vaccines.
  • MHAC continued in 2021 to serve on the Task Force to End Loneliness and Build Community that released a follow-up report called “Promising Little Things to Strengthen Social Connections.
  • MHAC continues to play a major supporting role in the ReiMAgine Aging initiative, which is the statewide age-and dementia friendly action plan. The initiative released a year-two progress report in 2021 and is currently working on the year-three report.
  • MHAC co-chairs the Physical Infrastructure Workgroup of the Alzheimer’s Advisory Council, which is working to define dementia friendly infrastructure and community design.

We look forward to working with our partners and communities across Massachusetts in 2022!