What do seniors want? A new survey seeks to find out

What do seniors want? A new survey seeks to find out
Photo by Matthew Nedbalsky

Survey says? We want to keep our seniors in Brownstone Brooklyn!

A Downtown organization is surveying seniors in six of the borough’s toniest neighborhoods to better understand the obstacles they face, learn more about the reasons behind old-timers’ exodus — and fight for the low-tech changes that could convince Brooklyn’s wisest to stay put.

Heights and Hills recently won a $25,000 planning grant from the state Office for the Aging aimed at creating the survey, which targets six contiguous neighborhoods: Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Carroll Gardens and Park Slope.

The survey asks seniors to grade how important an array of items — personal home care, assisted living, home delivered medication, for example — are to promoting “maximized independence.” Other questions gauge how “senior friendly” a neighborhood is — and how to make it more so, whether by installing more benches, and longer crossing lights, or improving sidewalks.

The survey is being dispensed to area seniors through a network of support organizations serving hundreds of seniors and is also available online.

Eventually, the group will lobby state lawmakers to fund simple changes to help keep the autumn-aged better equipped to cope with the physical challenges that accompany old age, which can force people to move to assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

“There are certain things that older people just can’t do,” Judy Willig, the group’s executive director. “Maybe our commercial districts need more benches? Or traffic lights that stay red longer, allowing seniors more time to cross the street.”

One idea that’s come out of the group’s outreach efforts could be for local merchants to post signs or stickers in their windows, alerting seniors that they are welcome to patronize a shop’s restrooms (see sidebar).

“That’s a fact of life, older people have to go to the bathroom more often,” Willig noted.

Brooklyn Heights resident Martha Medic, 86, said finding a bathroom in and around Downtown can indeed be a problem. “It’s awfully hard if you’re walking and there’s no place to go,” she said.

Another obstacle could be the grandeur of the homes in the study area.

Anne Prezeszty, a consultant for the group, said the housing stock of Brownstone Brooklyn presents unique challenges — particularly its glorious staircases, that suddenly become less charming and more challenging — as the years pass.

Knowing how seniors feel about better access to home health aides or “look-in” programs — as the survey inquires — can help devise solutions to keep them in those homes, she said.

And that’s critical, because by a wide margin, seniors prefer to age in their own homes, according to the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons which found that nationwide, a whopping 90 percent of people over the age of 45 prefer staying put.

Ultimately, organizers said, old and young will benefit from the survey.

“Longer traffic lights are also good for parents with strollers trying to get across the street,” Prezeszty said.

— with Tony Cella