Time to turn to seniors

June 15, 2017

The Lynnfield Board of Selectmen has hit on a great idea by creating a senior citizen advisory council. The council’s scope will not be limited to council on aging matters and senior center needs: The selectmen want seniors to give them advice on broad-sweeping town concerns, including transportation, tax policy and recreation.

Turning to the oldest residents in any community for advice and perspective seems like an obvious idea. But how often is it done? Municipal policies and programs from one community to another all too often seem to peg seniors as a specific class of citizens in need of services like “assisted” housing, specialized transportation, and senior centers.

Lynnfield’s elected leaders are turning the tables on the way government views older residents and turning to seniors for their wisdom and institutional knowledge of a community. Seniors in many ways are the people best equipped to weigh in on the merits of a proposed community or initiative or policy.

Many older residents lived in towns such as Lynnfield for decades and they have seen bright ideas come and go. They can recall when tax dollars were wisely spent and when common sense was cast aside in favor of the latest municipal planning craze.

Seniors know the adage, “the more things change, the more they stay the same,” contains some truth. Studying a community’s history helps provide insight on local problems and why some solutions work better than others.

Lynnfield’s legislative delegation would be well-served recruiting their colleagues in surrounding communities and proposing the creation of a special committee to replicate senior citizen advisory councils in cities and towns across the state.

The combined power of Massachusetts seniors offering perspective, advice and suggestions can only help local communities and state government. Senior citizen advisory councils can also advise communities on how to tackle seniors’ housing needs and medical care.

Modern medicine is pushing life expectancy toward triple digits but the demise of the pension systems familiar to people born in the mid 20th-century means new and innovative solutions to assisting seniors financially must be sought.

Councils built on the Lynnfield model can be sounding boards and sources of advice for how communities keep seniors living safely in their homes and how local government can help families affordably care for an older loved one. Leaving senior concerns to the private sector and the federal government will only yield partial solutions to these significant challenges.

Senior citizen advisory councils make sense more now than ever.