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City launches age and dementia-friendly pilot program for local businesses

Sharon Foley, a real estate agent in West Roxbury, saw the toll that dementia took on her mother for eight years, before her death at 88. So she, along with the owner of Parkway Real Estate, enrolled their firm in a city pilot for an Age and Dementia-Friendly business designation. The program, according to the city, gives seniors and those living with memory ailments a list of businesses whose employees are trained to work with elderly and recognize signs of dementia, and cater to the specific needs of those living with the disease.

“I understand this is a horrible disease, and does not discriminate,” Foley said during the program’s announcement Thursday at the Local 337 Bagels shop on Centre Street in West Roxbury. She described a client who is showing signs of aging and having difficulty with the process of selling his parents’ home and pointed to that and “other scenarios that require both a compassionate and well-trained agent to help the client navigate.”


The initiative was launched, in part, because the city’s elderly population is projected to boom over the next decade and beyond.

A 2014 report by the University of Massachusetts Boston Gerontology Institute found that the number of residents over 62 is expected to grow to more than 140,000 by 2030, up from 88,000 listed in the 2010 Census.

There are 15,000 people living with dementia in Boston, and that number is projected to increase 25 percent by 2025.

Andrea Burns, of the Age Friendly Boston Initiative, which launched the program, said the business designation was meant to recognize those who cater to people showing signs of aging.

Think of simple adjustments a business can make, she said, for example changing a lighting system, to posting signs with larger, legible font. Or putting certain items on lower shelves. Staff would be recognized to identify the needs of elderly and those with memory problems, including the times they tend to shop. Any sense of consistency can help, Burns said.


On Thursday, nine businesses were certified in the West Roxbury Main Street district, which was designated as the pilot area based on the neighborhood’s density of senior residents. The program will be expanded to other neighborhoods, Burns said. Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who attended the announcement, praised the businesses for participating, saying the city and businesses need to be more mindful of its elderly, and those living with dementia. His grandmother suffered from Alzheimer’s, he said, “at a time that people didn’t really understand what that was.”

“They didn’t really have the support systems in place … to deal with that,” he said. “This is about teaching businesses, and training businesses, to help people, and help people get older.”

Milton J. Valencia can be reached at milton.valencia@globe.com.