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Age-Friendly Communities

Apr 26, 2019

Next Wednesday, May 1st, there will be a community forum at the Elks at Bass Rocks in Gloucester.  “Aging Together: a Summit to Explore Building a Community for All Ages” will review the efforts of the Age & Dementia Friendly Cape Ann initiative—a project of the four communities of Cape Ann—and will engage residents with varied points of view. This includes retired people, professionals with an area business, families, caregivers, veterans, students, people living with disabilities, religious leaders, etc.

Age Friendly and Dementia Friendly programs are being established in Massachusetts, the U.S., and the world.  In today’s article, I would like to look at what it means to be Age Friendly, and what it can mean for a community.

One million people worldwide turn 60 every month.  In response to this reality, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched an international effort—Age-Friendly Cities and Communities Program—in 2006.

The Age Friendly movement is growing.  In 2015, AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities listed only 60 communities.  Today, there are more than 350 groups involved—some state, some individual communities, and some—like Cape Ann—regions.  Likewise the WHO Global Network for Age friendly Cities and Communities listed 258 cities in in 30 countries in 2015, and now includes 833 cities in 41 countries

Although the Age Friendly discussion began as a result of our rapidly aging global population, an age friendly community benefits people of all ages. Improving air and water quality protects growing children and older persons with environmental sensitivities. Secure neighborhoods are safer for children, youth, women and older adults. Families experience less worry and stress when their older relations have the services and supports they need. Barrier-free buildings and streets enhance the mobility and independence of both younger and older persons living with disabilities.

Specific Age Friendly practices can take many different shapes and formats.  Ensuring that all city sidewalks have ramp-style cutouts at intersections is Age Friendly.  Whether you are pushing a stroller or navigating with a wheelchair or walker, a sidewalk cutout makes your life significantly easier when shopping on Main Street.  Having an efficient public transit system that reaches all neighborhoods serves a teenager who hasn’t yet gotten their driver’s license, while also serving an elder who may no longer drive.

The WHO has a four-page list of Age Friendly practices that a community might want to consider.  Here are a few of those practices.

  • Outdoor safety is promoted by good street lighting, police patrols and community education.
  • Buildings are well-signed outside and inside, with sufficient seating and toilets, accessible elevators, ramps, railings and stairs, and non-slip floors.
  • Public transportation is reliable and frequent, including at night and on weekends and holidays.
  • Sufficient, affordable housing is available in areas that are safe and close to services and the rest of the community
  • Good information about community activities and events is provided, including details about accessibility of facilities and transportation options for older people.
  • Schools provide opportunities to learn about ageing and older people, and involve older people in school activities.

Most of these items seem to be fairly common sense.  In some cases, there can be a financial reason that something simple is not happening.  But, having a community-wide discussion about the areas that could be improved to make Cape Ann more Age Friendly may help us identify ways to make things happen that we didn’t think were possible.

The PBS documentary “Coming of Age in America” makes the point that if you can make a community work for a child and you can make a community work for an elder, the community will work for everyone else.  Age & Dementia Friendly Cape Ann is working toward that goal.

To be more effective, this initiative needs the participation of everyone who calls Cape Ann home, including people of all ages, caregivers, persons living with disabilities, and professionals who work or live on Cape Ann. For more information about Age & Dementia Friendly Cape Ann, visit the website at www.adfca.org or contact Project Coordinator Carrie Johnson at 978-281-1750.