The Upper West Side, home to a large and growing population of older New Yorkers, is morphing by design into one of the more age-friendly neighborhoods in the city. According to information that the Department for the Aging released in February of last year, 41,648 people over the age of 60 live within the boundaries of community district 7, with 13,608 of them age 75 and older. That population accounts for almost 20 percent of the entire community district and is the reason the Upper West Side has been designated one of three Aging Improvement Districts in the city (the others are East Harlem and Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn) as part of a pilot program of Age-Friendly NYC, sponsored by the mayor’s office, the City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine.
A study of the Upper West Side conducted by 20 community organizations, including senior centers, churches and cultural institutions, found that the things seniors most want to see improved are often small changes that make it easier for them to remain part of their community.
“[One] big issue is to be able to sit when you go shopping,” said City Council Member Gale Brewer. Her office recently surveyed grocery stores in the area to assess their senior-friendliness and released a pamphlet detailing which stores offer seats, shopping assistance, single-serving portions of meat, discounts, access to bathrooms and other amenities that seniors find help greatly with getting their shopping done. Brewer said connecting seniors with vital information and with each other should be a prime objective of improving the neighborhood.
David Gillcrist, the executive director of Project FIND, which runs three senior centers on the West Side, is also pushing new programs that help the elderly figure out how to live better in their communities. He is hoping to implement a program in partnership with the Columbia School of Occupational Therapy called lifestyle redesign.
“It’s a look at what makes you independent. For example, accessing transportation; what elements are involved?” Gillcrist explained. Counselors talk with seniors and break down tasks that may seem daunting—traveling to the grocery store, for example—and figure out, step by step, how they can accomplish everyday objectives.
Gillcrist is waiting on word from the Department for the Aging on whether or not the Project’s Hamilton Center, at 141 W. 73rd St., will be designated as an Innovative Senior Center.
“It would mean we would get roughly half a million dollars to expand our programs,” said Gillcrist. “We proposed to have an evening program and in that way we hope to attract people, older adults who work during the day and cannot take advantage [of the daytime classes]. We would also have more of an emphasis on interactive entertainment, musical programming.”
They would also run a once-a-week legal clinic to help seniors deal with “end of life stuff that people pay hundreds of dollars to have done [like wills], but it would be free,” said Gillcrist.
Free programming is an important element of catering to older adults in the community; 32.5 percent of seniors over 65 on the Upper West Side live at the poverty level, according to the NYC Center for Economic Opportunity gauges, and many more live not far above that line.
Stephan Russo, executive director of Goddard Riverside Center, which operates social service programs on the Upper West Side and in Harlem, said one of the biggest obstacles many seniors face is not knowing about the benefits that are available to them. Many are not computer literate and can easily feel disconnected from the world—a finding echoed in the Aging Improvement District study. Russo would like to be able to identify and connect with seniors who could use the help that the city and state offers.
“How do you get those benefits that are out there for older adults into their hands? How to expand the home delivery meals program to people who are homebound? Our experience going out to the community is that there are people who are out there who need them,” Russo said. “I think food insecurity is an important issue.”
Brewer agrees that even with the many programs in place for seniors in the neighborhood, more can be done to reach the entire population.
“There are more and more frail elderly. They don’t want to say anything. We try to do as much outreach as we can,” she said.
“New York City is a wonderful place to retire,” said Russo. “The dilemma is how do you balance the needs of the well elderly [who are physically active and financially secure] and those who have a tremendous high need.”
The other articles in this section first ran in City Hall, our sister publication, looking at some of the issues facing elders in New York City as the city’s population grows older. These articles first appeared in the Sept. 19 issue of City Hall. To read more, visit cityhallnews.com.
NEW YORK CITY AS A WHOLE
Elder population: In 2009, more than 39.6 million people 65+ live in the United States.
The country’s elderly population is growing quickly because of baby boomers. The country’s 65-and-over population increased from 35 million in 2000 to 40 million in 2010, and is expected to grow to 55 million in 2020.
The country’s 85+ population increased from 4.2 million in 2000 to 5.7 million in 2010, and is expected to grow to 6.6 million in 2020.
There are 3.4 million people over 65 in New York State.
The greatest number of the state’s elderly, 1.3 million people, is concentrated in New York City.
That is equivalent to 13.4 % of the state’s total population.
That is a 7.8% increase between 1999 and 2009.
In 2009, New York ranked 10th out of the 50 states in high poverty rates among its elderly.
In 2009, over half of the country’s elderly population were concentrated in just 11 states.
New York State has the 3rd largest population of people over 65 in the country, although the growth in its elderly population year to year is among the slowest compared with other states.
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