Safeguarding Seniors Young and Old: From Meds to Housing

Through gerontology advocates, we are learning that aging takes vigilance.

Posted Jul 07, 2016

Courtesy of Lois Ardito 2015
Source: Courtesy of Lois Ardito 2015

While I was visiting my elderly aunt in Connecticut, I saw her attitude and liveliness dissipate after she was moved from assisted living to the nursing care section within the same highly recommended facility.  Despite what we may consider to be excellent care, when it comes to people who are aging and in compromised health, advocates play a vital role.  As I wondered aloud with my cousin as to who would spend time taking care of us, another article by Charles Ornstein was published in “ProPublica.” The Pulitizer Prize awarded team, once again reminded me that caring journalists keep us informed. From medications to care groups and housing, seniors young and old need facts to make thoughtful decisions.

In his new report,"Feed Me, Pharma,"  Ornstein cited the June 2016 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) depicting the cozy relationship between Big Pharma, physician dinner perks, and how this influences doctors when it comes to prescribing higher priced medications.*

As disconcerting as it is to learn of this practice, people with elderly relatives are always grateful when issues affecting those we care about is presented clearly.  

New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America

I first read about Ornstein's new work the work in Generations Beat Online. With Paul Kleyman at New America Media (NAM), association of over 3000 ethnic media organizations, and Todd Kluss at Gerontological Society of America (GSA), a professional group that promotes the scientific study of aging—journalism fellowships keep reporters digging for facts.

There was more good news for seniors in the recent issue that highlighted a website called “Just Care: The Buzz for Boomer and Carers" ( are putting a readable spin on health care advice and information by aggregating reliable information and separating fact from fiction. Spearheaded by Diane Arches, the wealth of information comes through a volunteer staff.  

An issue that has long been an interest of mine is socialization and housing for aging relatives. At the Orlando conference of the GSA-NAM in 2015, the group was addressed by University of Florida professor of gerontology Stephen Golant, author of "Aging in the Right Place.”  He is challenging the age-old belief that it is better to age at home by pointing out that there may be healthier alternatives.

Community housing encourages socialization and in assisted living facilities and nursing homes, there is an opportunity for recognizing and treating depression.  A study in the American Psychologist notes that older adults are less likely to receive care from a mental health specialist than younger people (Karel, Gatz & Smyer, 2012).  And yet, with dementia and Alzheimer’s today affecting 1 in 9 people over the age of 65, therapists are vital. This underscores the research from the MacArthur Foundation.

Several years ago at the GSA-NAM conference I interviewed John Rowe, M.D., director of the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, and network chair of the Research Network on an Aging Society — MacArthur Foundation. He discussed the concept of affordable housing and health needs of low income residents from a policy perspective pointing out the value of on-site care. From a recently funded MacArthur project, “Senior Housing Coordinators Help Reduce Hospital Admissions,” we learn of an 18 percent decrease in hospital admissions.

In talking to colleagues in Boston—and hearing from colleagues in states across the country—housing is a problem.  Several years ago a friend in Rhode Island asked me to accompany her while she visited senior housing units there and in Massachusetts. Eventually she managed to get on a waiting list in Rhode Island, but in Massachusetts, the response echoed what is becoming all too predictable with the nationwide senior housing shortage: “The list is closed.”   After months of repeated calls and emails, the response remained the same, “The list is closed.” Essentially, it seems as if the senior housing world has an unspoken mantra: “Apply until you die.”

(NB: Presently an adjunct professor, Department of English, Suffolk University. Previous award recipient for the Journalist in Aging Fellowship through GSA-NAM.)


Karel MJ,Gatz M, Smyer MA, American Psychologist of the American Psychology Association. 2012 Apr;67(3):184-98. doi: 10.1037/a0025393.

Copyright 2016 Rita Watson