By Gregory T. Federspiel
Last week the four Cape Ann communities were recognized by AARP and the Massachusetts’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs for the work that is underway to make our communities age and dementia friendly. Led by Senior Care, Rockport, Essex, Gloucester and Manchester have made a commitment to making it easier for older residents to remain active residents who can continue to contribute to the vitality and diversity our neighborhoods.
The gathering last week, titled Aging Together – A Summit to Explore a Community for All Ages, drew a large crowd of residents, state and local officials and professionals engaged in a wide range of services for young and old alike. A common theme expressed by the speakers was that a community that works well for young children and older adults works well for everyone.
The keynote speaker for the event was Andrea Weaver, Founder and Executive Director of Bridges Together, an organization helping municipalities across the country develop inter-generational programs and a culture of respect that cuts across age, decreases barriers between generations and builds on inclusiveness. A wonderful moment in Weaver’s presentation was when she shared drawings from a child that depicted the child’s impression of an older adult prior to the inter-generational program and after it. Decrepit and scary was transformed to smart and funny. The new relationships that were formed were truly heartwarming. And studies have shown that older adults who interact with young people live longer and remain more engaged generally.
The “graying of America” is here. For the first time, there are more people over 60 than under 18. This is certainly true here. A third of Manchester residents are over 60 and by the 2030’s this will grow to over 40%. This means we will soon have over 2,200 residents in the final third or so of their lives. Overwhelmingly people want to age in place, that is, they want housing options in their hometown where they can remain independent and remain active citizens.
Facilitating aging in place requires some adaptation of our physical environment and social structures – more accessible public spaces for one; better understanding and patience for mild impairments for another. Support for caregivers, opportunities for young and old to interact, congregate meal sites, older adult programming from fitness classes to music and the arts – this and much more can make a community age friendly and help enable residents to live out their lives in their home.
Our Council on Aging Director Nancy Hammond and her small part-time staff do a remarkable job of providing various services and programs on a shoe-string budget. How best to respond to the rapidly growing number of older residents in Manchester will need attention in the months and years ahead. Regional efforts like the Age and Dementia Friendly community initiative that Senior Care is leading is a great step in the right direction.