Cumberland committee hopes to help seniors 'age in place'

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CUMBERLAND — If you don’t use it, Board of Selectmen Chairman Tom Gruber believes, you lose it.

And Gruber is among those who want to make sure Cumberland’s older residents live life as long and as fully as possible.

Gruber, who also serves on the board of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging and attends AARP conferences, has spearheaded creation of the town’s new Aging in Place Committee, which is expected to begin work this month.

“Our focus is how to give (aging residents) the best opportunity to stay in their home,” Gruber explained Aug. 28. “And in a meaningful way, too.”

He said “one of the major, major issues in … today’s society is us Baby Boomers, specifically, getting older and trying to age in place – stay in their homes. … It’s a major issue nationally. … And you have to be aggressive about it, as far as I’m concerned, and try to get ahead of it.”

Gruber said he surveyed residents on the matter during the primary election in June, and found that concerns included rising property taxes and a lack of public transportation. He then gained support from his fellow councilors to form the committee to look into these and other issues.

Gruber said he plans to divide the panel into subcommittees to tackle objectives that could lead to recommendations for the Town Council. One of those could be a program, similar to one used in Yarmouth, where seniors would be asked to call in each morning as a check on their welfare. A police officer or volunteer would be dispatched if the person fails to call.

A community center could be another objective. “Those aging in place need to socialize, they need a place to gather, they need a place to exercise, (and to) have a hub,” Gruber said. “And that could be the hub for (public) transportation as well.”

Walking paths that are well-lit and have benches might be another focus, as well as property tax relief, and ensuring there is enough senior housing available for those who need some assistance but want to stay in Cumberland, he said.

Food insecurity is another issue, even though the town has a well-stocked food pantry at the town office. Gruber said he is concerned the pantry does not reach out to those of advanced age, because either they’re too proud or they don’t have transportation.

Gruber noted that many older people still have aptitude and experience that can be used to the benefit of themselves and their community. He said he would like to find them meaningful volunteer positions at the town’s schools, town office and food pantry, where they could socialize and feel good about what they are doing.

“You get the psychic income when you do stuff like that,” he said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.