Honoring work supporting innovation in old age | MIT News

On September 13, MIT AgeLab partnered with a long-standing AgeLab association to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Boston Bridge, a non-profit aging professional development organization.

Since its inception in 2012, AgeLab has been associated with Boston Bridge, an interdisciplinary program that works with businesses, governments and non-governmental organizations to improve the quality of life for older people and those who care for them. MIT AgeLab researcher Taylor Patskanick is the current president of the Boston Bridge, and the MIT Sloan School of Management is the current site of the Boston Bridge’s monthly meetings.

Boston Bridge hosts meetings and networking dinners that invite established and emerging professionals in the aging field to share their expertise with those interested or involved in the aging field. The organization also connects older and younger professionals for mentoring opportunities.

A growing cohort of aging Americans means we can hardly afford to neglect attention to older adults, Patskanick said in her opening remarks for the anniversary celebration. She also noted that the Covid-19 pandemic has significantly tightened the labor market, while at the same time the aging population has created unprecedented demand for professionals to work with and serve older adults.

Boston Bridge’s focus on mentoring makes it both a professional development organization and a form of intergenerational programming. And the birth of Boston Bridge was itself an intergenerational affair: The organization was founded by Barbara Friedman, who recently retired from her position as director of intergenerational programs at the nonprofit 2Life Communities, and Elana Kieffer, a recent Brandeis University graduate student .

Early in her career, when Friedman was a high school biology teacher, she remarked that her textbook ended discussion of human body development after age 25. “I was wondering,” she said, “did nothing happen? the body after 25?’” This observation of the lack of attention given to older people’s experiences, she said, propelled her to a later career in old age and eventually the founding of Boston Bridge.

As Boston Bridge has grown and demonstrated resilience over the decade since its inception, the organization has issued a replication manual that professionals can use to develop similar programs in their own cities. The Boston area has proven to be home to many firsts in age innovation: In 2020 and 2021, the The Boston Globe published a series of articles highlighting aspects of the city’s role as a ‘longevity centre’.

Emily Shea, commissioner of Boston’s Age Strong Commission; Sandra Harris, Vice President of AARP Massachusetts; and Alice Bonner, former Secretary of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs and current Senior Advisor on Aging at the Institute for Healthcare Improvement, also made remarks at the ceremony. Speaking of her formative professional experience working with older adults, Bonner said, “My first job in a nursing home was like being on another planet…it’s transformative.” The people who chose the profession of working with older people and them to help represent a special class of professionals worth investing in and developing.

Friedman and Kieffer and Joseph Coughlin, founder and director of MIT AgeLab, were recognized for their involvement in the development of Boston Bridge. Discussing the role Boston Bridge plays in both developing the aging workforce and nurturing thought leaders on how to serve the aging population, Coughlin said, “Boston Bridge is a step in investing in action. Innovation comes from people doing the work.”

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