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Hub named good place to grow old

Region earns high marks for quality of life, winter included

Retiree James Spriggs, 65, likes that he can walk just about anywhere he wants to go from his South End home. Retiree James Spriggs, 65, likes that he can walk just about anywhere he wants to go from his South End home. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Kay Lazar
Globe Staff / July 31, 2012
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Metropolitan Boston ranks fourth nationally as a desirable place to live as you age, according to a study that finds that the region has a wealth of physical therapists, nurses, orthopedic surgeons, and fitness centers, along with convenient public transportation and employment opportunities for people over age 65.

And for people 80 and over, it takes top prize.

The report from the Milken ­Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank, analyzed 78 factors that a panel of specialists deemed to most affect seniors’ quality of life, including housing costs, crime rates, the job market, opportunities for social engagement, and the weather.

Medical care received extra weight for the 80-and-over category, which helps explain why the Boston area was labeled a mecca for this age group, despite its often less-than stellar weather.

“I think it will surprise people that the best places for aging are not just Florida and Arizona,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president of AARP, which advised Milken on the study and provided financial support. “There’s this ­notion that you reach a certain age and there is this immutable force that moves you to the South.”

The top 20 large metropolitan areas did not include one Florida or Arizona community, but included number one-ranked Provo, Utah; Madison, Wis., in second; and Omaha in third.

But not all is ideal in Metropolitan Boston for seniors, according to the study.

The region ranked in the bottom 25 among 100 of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas for its high taxes and high cost of housing, including assisted living. And commuting times for the Boston area, the report concluded, “aren’t for the faint of heart.”

Ross DeVol, the Milken ­Institute’s chief research officer, said his organization ­embarked on the analysis ­because it worries that the ­nation’s leaders are not focused on the critical needs of older adults despite the coming ­“silver tsunami” with millions of aging baby boomers.

“There is a huge societal change that is upon us, and they really aren’t focused on it, except for debates about the ­future of Social Security and Medicare,” DeVol said.

The institute’s aim is to spark discussion among mayors, city councils and other ­local leaders about ways to make their communities more liveable as their residents age.

Nearly 90 percent of people age 65 and over and roughly 84 percent of boomers want to stay in their homes for as long as possible, according to surveys by AARP, a lobbying group for people over 50.

For James Spriggs, a 65-year-old retired postal worker who rents in Boston’s South End, the city’s number one selling point is convenience.

Spriggs, an amateur photographer, loves that he can walk just about anywhere, includ­ing the gym, his doctor’s office, and a historic house where he volunteers in Jamaica Plain. He said the pedometer he wears shows he walks 4,000 to 6,000 steps a day.

One downside to living in the city, Spriggs said, is that it’s often noisy, especially with work crews repairing subway tracks near his apartment in the middle of the night.

“When you live in the city, you’ve got to put up with a lot of sirens at night,” he said.

David P. Stevens, executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Councils on ­Aging, said that Boston’s high ranking reflects creative problem-solving from many nonprofits and state agencies, but that this is hardly the time for anyone to “sit on our laurels.”

He said affordable housing for elders is not keeping pace with the rapidly rising 60-and-over population.

Stevens and others said they were surprised by the ­report’s ranking of Boston’s public transportation system as second best among the top 100 metro areas, right behind New York City.

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority raised fares earlier this month to help erase a $160 million deficit. Critics said that seniors and the disabled, who have long received significant discounts, shouldered disproportionate increases.

Carolyn Villers, executive director of the Massachusetts Senior Action Council, an ­advocacy group for low- and middle-income seniors, said the council is hearing reports of seniors now unable to afford to attend social activities, yet the report ranked the city high for community engagement for elders.

“There are a wealth of ­resources here,” she said, “but I would be curious to see how well people are able to access those resources.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at klazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.

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