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Have you ever needed to go somewhere but hesitated out of concern for your safety? If so, you should know about the San Francisco Department of Aging and Adult Services’ Senior Escort Program, which provides escorts to people aged 60 and older in all neighborhoods of the city for trips to supermarkets, medical appointments and other destinations. Click here to read full article

Getting around town is a serious headache for many older adults. Travel to medical appointments, grocery stores, senior centers, friends’ homes and other venues is particularly challenging for those who don’t drive, and whose health conditions limit their walking and use of public transit.

Now there’s a company that promises to ease the transportation barriers faced by elderly San Franciscans. Click here to read full article

After 93 years in the fast lane, Robert Cameron has no time for retirement. Not now, not ever.

“Working is what keeps me alive,” says Cameron, an aerial photographer best known for the “Above” series of books, which capture many of the world’s great cities and landscapes from a helicopter’s perspective. “I’ve seen what retirement has done to many of my peers. They get fat and lazy and before long they’re dead. Who needs that action?” Click here to read full article

When Dr. Jerrold Kaplan retired from his full-time cardiology practice in 2000, he quickly discovered that a life focused on leisure wasn’t his cup of tea. So after a few months of golfing and traveling, Kaplan signed up with the Samaritan House Free Clinic of San Mateo, where he now spends half a day each week treating patients.

Kaplan, 66, is one of about 35 physicians who donate their time and services to the Samaritan House Free Clinic of San Mateo, which provides primary and specialty medical care to low-income San Mateo County residents. Nearly all of the clinic’s volunteers – the nurses, translators and office staff, as well as the doctors – are over 60, and most are retired or semi-retired from full-time careers. Click here to read full article

Like many women, Marilyn Abedin has faced a series of life-stage transitions as she entered midlife. Over the past decade, the Saratoga resident has divorced her first husband and married another man, watched her youngest child leave home for college and launched a new career as a mortgage broker, after 35 years of hospital-related work.

Abedin, now 62, has embraced these changes, which she describes as “mostly exciting and liberating.” But, for many people, the transitions that often occur in their 50s and 60s – in areas such as work, family, romance, housing, health and finance – can prove daunting and stressful. Click here to read full article

Would you like to learn more about technology or storytelling? Do you enjoy jokes or bingo or mysteries? Think it would be fun to talk with others about food or current events or health issues?

An innovative program called Senior Center Without Walls connects older adults from around Northern California – including many who are homebound or find it difficult to get to a community senior center – entirely by phone. Click here to read full article

To be honest, Kirk Davis “wasn’t really interested at all” a couple of years ago when he first heard about the new cohousing community being planned near his Nevada City home in the Sierra foothills.

“My wife and I bought 11 acres after I retired and started building a rock cottage, and I thought I’d spend the rest if my life there,” said Davis, 59, who sold his Pleasant Hill dental lab in 1999. “But my wife decided she didn’t want to be so isolated, and we started going to some of the cohousing meetings. I began to see that the home we’d been planning was total isolation and that that wasn’t very healthy. And I started to realize that it would be nice to have other people to share things with, like the first snow of winter.” Click here to read full article

A residential complex that will include affordable housing for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors is moving closer toward reality in San Francisco.

The new housing facility, a project of openhouse, will include at least 88 rental units welcoming to LGBT persons ages 55 and older who qualify for below market-rate housing. The development plan includes independent living studio and one-bedroom apartments. Click here to read full article

As the number of Americans seeking to grow old in their own homes rises, the array of solutions aimed at helping them achieve this goal continues to widen.

One innovative new approach is to bring traditional assisted living offerings – including health and safety monitoring, personal care support services and opportunities for socialization – directly into the homes of older adults. The idea is to help seniors who may be experiencing physical or cognitive problems remain living independently without having to leave home.

This model is now available in parts of the Bay Area, pioneered by a Mill Valley-based venture called Living Well Assisted Living At Home. Founded in 2009 by two local leaders in the field of geriatric care, Doris Bersing and Tessa ten Tusscher, Living Well currently serves San Francisco and southern Marin County, with plans to expand into other regions of the Bay Area and Southern California. Click here to read full article

Staying socially connected is one of those behaviors, like regular exercise and good diets, that can help older people lead healthier, and perhaps longer, lives.

That’s the finding of several recent studies. In 2007, for example, researchers from Western Oregon University found that older adults who increase or maintain their social networks are more likely than those who don’t to report enhanced cognitive functioning, decreased depression and improved quality of life.

And in the 1990s, Harvard researchers found that people age 65+ who report frequent contact with relatives and friends or participation in regular social activities are about half as likely to experience cognitive decline as those with no regular social ties.

But social interaction isn’t just about health promotion. “Engaging with a compatible person promotes quality of life, it’s fun,” says Ben Lewis, a San Francisco resident who founded a company in 2009 that connects its clients with social companions who share similar interests.

Called Engage As You Age, Lewis’s company primarily targets homebound and socially isolated seniors, those living in private homes as well as those residing at assisted living and other senior communities. “The folks we work with tend to spend a lot of their time alone, and often they are really yearning for human interaction and stimulating conversation,” says Lewis

Engage As You Age matches these clients with employees, called activity specialists, who have similar passions, from opera and history to languages, ice skating and genealogy. When hiring employees, Lewis says he looks for “intelligent, empathetic, imaginative people with good interpersonal skills.”

Shared interests have enabled activity specialists to establish lasting bonds with many clients. “We were recently able to pair an artist who has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease with a younger activity specialist who’s just starting his artistic career, and they really clicked due to their shared passion for art,” says Lewis. “And recently we paired an elderly Russian Jew raised in Brooklyn with an activity specialist who’s also from Brooklyn, and they’re working together on the client’s memoir.”

Engage As You Age has built a network of more than 100 activity specialists, serving clients through out the Bay Area. Most are younger than the company’s clients, who range in age from the mid-40s to the late 90s, creating intergenerational opportunities.

The company provides extensive screening and training of employees, including background checks. The application process includes an essay and a verbal presentation to staff. All activity specialists are insured and bonded.


Engage As You Age client Selma enjoys discussions with activity specialist Stacey.

Clients include people who are bedbound and people with dementia. “We’re able to work with mild dementia and early-stage Alzheimer’s, who can really benefit from participation in social activities,” explains Lewis. “It’s more difficult to engage clients with more advanced dementia.”

Engage As You Age provides a free in-home consultation for interested clients and families, to assess clients’ interests and help the company develop a customized service plan.

Clients are often referred by family members, including many caring for loved ones with dementia. “The time clients spend engaging with an activity specialist can provide much-needed respite for family caregivers,” says Lewis. Families often cover the company’s fees, which typically run $25 to $50 per hour for home visits. Families often hear about Engage As You Age through word of mouth or Lewis’s frequent public speaking engagements, and the company was featured on CBS’ “Start-Up Spotlight” in 2009.

In addition to one-on-one socialization with activity specialists, Engage As You Age offers discussion groups at assisted living and continuing care facilities around the Bay Area. The company also offers one-on-one and group computer instruction, in which clients learn how to use email, search engines and social networking sites.

Lewis, who has a master’s degree in African American studies from Yale, launched the venture after volunteering as a companion for an elderly woman who lived at a continuing care community in San Francisco. “The experience made me realize that a lot of older people have nothing to do all day, but that they have a lot to offer. Even at some of the toniest facilities, the only time some people leave their rooms and interact with other people is at meals.

“It’s amazing to see how people just light up when our activity specialists come to see them,” says Lewis. “It’s something they look forward to and circle on their calendars. And it shows just how important it is for people to be challenged and stretched in conversations. What we offer is not just entertainment, it’s intellectual stimulation.”

For information or to schedule an in-person consultation, see http://engageasyouage.com or call (415) 690-6944. Engage As You Age is located in San Francisco.

(This article originally appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Bay Area Summit)