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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Is it possible to create an "age friendly" community in Howard County?

   A couple of weeks ago I blogged on the demographic changes that were reported in a report released by the County.  Here is a summary of that information:

  "In 2010, 10.12% of Howard County residents were aged 65 or
older. By 2025, this figure will rise to 17.49%. By 2035, it will reach 21.63%,
based on calculations using data from Maryland State Department of Planning
population projections. Not only will there be considerably greater numbers
of older adults, there will also be more older adults in sheer numbers with at
least one chronic health issue to address and, perhaps, the financial stress of
fixed-income living. Such a societal transformation will affect everyone living in
Howard County. Community leaders in all sectors must consider the changes
required to ensure that Howard County is prepared to meet the needs of this
growing population and the people who care for them."

    I probably don't have another topic on which I blog that has more relevance for me.  I spent most of my work years involved in addressing the needs of senior citizens in Howard County and developing programs to address those needs.  Getting attention for the needs of senior citizens wasn't always easy.  For many years seniors were seen as an inconsequential part of community.  Of course that was never said out loud but our community was more focused on the needs of young families who had been attracted to our new communities.  My own family fit within that group.  The needs of older persons were directed at seniors who were brought here by there children.  Often this was an older, frailer, and poorer group than the seniors we now see in our communities.
    What is creating the rapid growth in senior population is the aging of those adults who moved here to raise their children.  We are healthier, wealthier, more educated and more active than our cohorts who lived here 20 years ago.  The roots we have established in our communities are deeper and more permanent than seniors living here in the past.  Many may never utilize a senior center. Many will not move to a 55+ community.  Most likely we plan to live here the rest of their lives.  Howard County is home even if many of us spend some time in warmer climates part of the year.  Typically we Baby Boomers will hate to be thought of as "senior citizens" even as we reluctantly deal with the health challenges that we are beginning to experience.  Denial will give way to an acceptance that we are moving into a new phase of our life that will require some accommodations to aging.
     So how does the report define an age friendly community?  Here are some areas:

    1) Access to Service and Resource Information Older adults and their caregivers
must be able to find helpful services within their own communities. Especially
important are organizations skilled at guiding older adults through service
systems and making information such as eligibility criteria easy to understand.
    2) Basic Needs Age-friendly communities must offer a safety net to ensure that
no one goes hungry, is homeless or is subject to abuse or exploitation.
    3) Housing Age-friendly communities must offer housing that is affordable
and accessible for residents with disabilities, including those who use
wheelchairs. Home repair and modification services need to be readily
available for older homeowners and the community must include a
sufficient supply of housing with support services, such as assisted living,
for older adults who cannot live alone. Affordable housing for caregivers
and service providers is also a major concern.
    4) Zoning and Land Use Planning Many age-friendly community design concepts
are linked to the new urbanism, which emphasizes walkable, pedestrianfriendly
environments, public spaces that promote social connection, etc.,
attributes with obvious value for older adults. Aging advocates also suggest
zoning that permits accessory housing, such as added apartments or small
houses, to accommodate older family members.
     5) Transportation Age-friendly communities must offer multimodal transportation
options, including public transit that is convenient and affordable, paratransit
or door-to-door dispatched service and service provided by volunteers. An agefriendly
transit service includes lift- or ramp-equipped vehicles that comply with
Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility requirements.
     6) Health and Supportive Services In order to serve aging populations well,
communities must provide sufficient primary care practitioners; health
and supportive services for in-home care; preventative health programs for
screening, exercise and wellness; and innovative technology, particularly for
in-home health care.
     7) Culture and Lifelong Learning In age-friendly communities, lifelong learning
and cultural activities are affordable and accessible.
    8) Public Safety Police, fire and emergency responder personnel must be
trained in older adult issues and coordinate services with health care and
community organizations.
    9) Civic Engagement and Volunteer Opportunities Age-friendly communities offer
a wide range of meaningful volunteer opportunities, encouraging older adults including service on government advisory boards
and committees.
    10) Employment In age-friendly communities, employers provide employment
opportunities for older workers who wish to remain in the workforce and
support family caregivers with flexible work and leave policies

   When asked what would be important to them here is what seniors told the surveyors of the report:

     The report indicated that the need for more health services, transportation and minor home repair as the areas that are most inadequate in meeting seniors needs.  Educational and volunteering opportunities were the areas that were mentioned as being the most available to seniors.
      The word that was used frequently in the report was collaboration.  Indeed the success of making Howard County age friendly cannot be the work of any one entity but a shared responsibility.  In developing Columbia the Rouse Company had the advantage of one entity having the vision and means to solely develop our community.  With the effort to develop an age friendly community we will not be so lucky.  Collective leadership is much more difficult to achieve.

Finally the report had these observations for moving forward:

"• First, an undertaking of this magnitude requires systems-level change to achieve the desired outcomes in the community. 
• Second, community leaders will need flexibility to respond to environmental changes and opportunities, rather than adhering to a fixed, step-by-step action plan. 
• Third, the community must understand that the scope of the demographic shift now underway makes it essential to accelerate progress toward the larger goal of maintaining a high quality of life for all county residents across the lifespan."

P.S.
     County Government is not the only entity in our community to recognize the growing boomer population.  Here is what the Columbia Association report stated.

P.S.1
     Link to new senior fitness center program started by Howard County Government.

P.S.2
     Seniors in Howard County have come together to create a supportive community with the development of the Village in Howard.

P.S. 3
     Looking for a fun sport designed for the 50+ crowd?  Try pickleball.

#hocoblogs

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is disconcerting that despite these statistics, most entities in the county, seem to want to "rebrand" to attract millennials. They do so at their own risk since it is the senior population that supports retail, restaurants, cultural events and reverence for our open space. We need a coordinated effort to announce that SENIORS MATTER.

duanestclair said...

Do I hear a bumper sticker in the making for our County? Maybe more popular than Choose Civility.