On be­ing an age-friendly com­mu­nity

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FIFTY PLUS - By Pamela Le­land, Ph.D.

Two things hap­pened as I was sit­ting at a traf­fic light this morn­ing: First, an im­pa­tient driver pulled out from be­hind me to run a red light. Sec­ond, an el­derly gen­tle­man, very slowly and with some ef­fort, was cross­ing the street.

For­tu­nately the driver did not hit the older gen­tle­man. But it was an op­por­tu­nity to be re­minded that it takes all of us to be a com­mu­nity that em­braces and sup­ports our el­derly pop­u­la­tion.

Re­cently, the Bor­ough of West Chester cel­e­brated its des­ig­na­tion as an “age­friendly com­mu­nity.” West Chester is one of four ju­ris­dic­tions in the Com­mon­wealth of Penn­syl­va­nia with this sta­tus. The des­ig­na­tion is granted by AARP as part of an af­fil­i­a­tion with the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion (WHO). The WHO pro­gram iden­ti­fies 8 ar­eas as most in­flu­en­tial on the qual­ity of life for older peo­ple. These 8 ar­eas in­clude: out­door spa­ces, hous­ing, trans­porta­tion, health ser­vices, com­mu­nity en­gage­ment, so­cial par­tic­i­pa­tion, re­spect and so­cial in­clu­sion, civic par­tic­i­pa­tion and em­ploy­ment.

West Chester’s des­ig­na­tion was achieved through a col­lab­o­ra­tion of West Chester University, the Mayor’s Of­fice and the Bor­ough’s Busi­ness Com­mu­nity. This kind of part­ner­ship is some­thing to be cel­e­brated!

But now the real work needs to be be­gin. If we are to fully be­come an age-friendly com­mu­nity, it will take all of us to live up the as­pi­ra­tions of this des­ig­na­tion. We need to work to­gether to an­swer the fol­low­ing kinds of ques­tions.

1. How will we en­sure older peo­ple with lim­ited mo­bil­ity have ac­cess to the many won­der­ful out­door spa­ces that ex­ist in West Chester? How can we more fully en­gage older adults in the many cul­tural and recre­ational op­por­tu­ni­ties that take place out­doors?

2. How will we en­sure that older adults with lim­ited fi­nan­cial re­sources have enough op­por­tu­ni­ties for safe and af­ford­able hous­ing? How will we re­duce the wait­ing lists that cur­rently ex­ist for sub­sided hous­ing? How can we meet the needs of low and mod­er­ate in­come el­ders for af­ford­able in-home sup­ports?

3. How will we en­sure that older adults who want to con­tinue to par­tic­i­pate in the work­force are given op­por­tu­ni­ties for train­ing and de­vel­op­ment needed in the cur­rent job mar­ket?

4. How will we fos­ter a deeper un­der­stand­ing of the needs of older adults as they age? How will we meet the di­verse needs of those who are in their 70s … their 80s … their 90s? Our cen­te­nar­i­ans?

5. How will we meet the trans­porta­tion needs of el­ders be­yond Mon­day – Fri­day,

9 a.m. to 5 p.m.? How will we cre­ate trans­porta­tion op­por­tu­ni­ties so that el­ders can more fully par­tic­i­pate in evening and week­end so­cial, recre­ational and spir­i­tual ac­tiv­i­ties?

6. How will we cre­ate co­her­ent and af­ford­able sys­tems of care that fo­cus on preven­tion and well­ness … so that el­ders not only live health­ier but also live longer with a higher qual­ity of life?

7. How will we meet the needs of those el­ders and their fam­i­lies who are strug­gling with the Alzheimers Dis­ease and other de­men­tia-re­lated dis­or­ders?

8. How will we fa­cil­i­tate deeper re­la­tion­ships be­tween and among peo­ple of all ages … so that older adults are able to be more fully in­volved in the life of the larger com­mu­nity? How do we re­duce so­cial iso­la­tion that can re­sult sim­ply from a lack of trans­porta­tion? There are other ques­tions that we need to fig­ure out if we are to truly em­body an age-friendly com­mu­nity. We need to work to­gether to iden­tify and pri­or­i­tize is­sues. We need to work across seg­ments in our com­mu­nity — in­volv­ing ed­u­ca­tors, busi­ness lead­ers, re­li­gious lead­ers, hu­man ser­vice pro­fes­sion­als, young peo­ple, ad­vo­cates … any and all car­ing in­di­vid­u­als!

Yes, a larger sys­tems re­sponse is called for … but it can also start small. It can start with an in­pa­tient driver who could have given an elder the time and space to safely cross the street.

More in­for­ma­tion on Age-Friendly Com­mu­ni­ties can be found on the AARP and WHO web­sites.

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