A recent meeting in New Orleans brought together leaders in the field of aging from across the country.
National awareness of unprecedented numbers of retirees and working individuals living to advanced age has most savvy industries looking at their infrastructure, products, policies and customer service to be sure they’re prepared to serve and respond to the desires and needs of this market.
Age-friendly health systems, businesses, parks and recreation, transportation systems, travel, housing and communities in general are looking to do a self-check on their preparedness for a permanent demographic shift in the country.
The John E. Hartford Foundation made a compelling presentation contending that actions in so many sectors of society could become the drivers for a broader social movement.
Several states have declared strategic intent to become age-friendly states. Hartford is pushing to advance a national Age-Friendly Social Movement.
It’s gratifying to see larger institutions thinking big.
As a long-time champion for the growing elder demographic, the increased responsiveness toward positive change is rewarding to see.
It’s important to note however, that the heart of needed change isn’t necessarily about age, though perhaps the aging of the population can be a catalyst to strengthen ties across communities. What do I mean?
Age-friendly discussions embrace a wide variety of topics. Transportation for example, is often talked about in terms of mobility in general. Alternative modes of transport, including easily accessible sidewalks and paths for walking, bicycles, golf carts and scooters, in addition to public transportation, are important.
Other examples include businesses with automatic doors, power carts, clear signage and reachable products. Elevators in housing complexes, benches around town and parks, adequate lighting in restaurants and menus with easy-to-read print are important.
Clearly marked crosswalks and traffic lights with adequate time to make a safe crossing are user friendly. The list goes on and on.
A couple years back, the local Strategic Leadership Council embraced the notion of “Livable Communities,” encouraging local decision-makers to consider a broader type of inclusiveness when considering infrastructure updates or improvements.
Multiple tools exist for a community or municipality to self-assess its livability and consider areas for improvement. When successful, livability translates to better usability and desirability.
The good thing is, usability for one segment of society generally benefits all. The examples given of age-friendly modifications also serve families with little children and strollers and individuals with disabilities, while at the same time making life a bit easier for people of all ages.
The backdrop for the Hartford Foundation talk was a broad swath of canvas painted into two lanes and laid across sand as an easy access beach walk. The depiction showed people of all ages and a baby stroller heading toward the water.
People are drawn to communities that welcome and create space where people of all ages, cultures and physical ability can enjoy life in proximity to one another.
A major tenet of the livable-community concept is recognition that communities that successfully achieve a comfortable norm of intergenerational and interdependent connection are healthy communities. Usability in housing, services, businesses and public spaces is a critical factor toward this goal.
So, how does the aging of the population strengthen ties across communities?
If the sheer size of the new demographic of older citizens spurs multiple industries to embrace and act on change consistent with the principles of livability, we’re lucky. Bring it on.
Lynn Kellogg is CEO of Region IV Area Agency on Aging in Southwest Michigan. Questions on age or independence services? Call the Info-Line for Aging & Disability at 800-654-2810 or visit www.areaagencyonaging.org. The Generations column appears each Sunday in The Herald-Palladium.