We recently attended the Tri-State (ME, NH, VT) Roundtable on Aging. Maine is certainly light-years ahead of most states in addressing the issue. (Maine) Speaker of the House Mark Eves opened the day and told us about the Maine Aging Initiative – one of collective impact (although he did not use that term) in intent as “Maine’s business, finance, health care and higher education leaders working with aging advocates .. find innovative ways to help older adults age in in place and build a stronger workforce.” (from program description).
The morning continued with three viewpoints about the economic impacts and challenges of an aging population in our rural states. Not only is money spent differently (and in many cases, less of it), there is a growing awareness of the impact on our local governments – fewer dollars to support them, as well as fewer people to run them.
(Will these smaller towns fade away? We think not. But they will need to change their governance structures, and rethink their places/roles in their regions. )
But back to aging in place, or aging in community. What does this mean? Aging in place means being able to stay in your own home as you get older and your needs change. Aging in community means that even if you don’t stay in the home where you raised your family, or have lived since you were born, you can still stay in the same town as you age.
Keep in mind, this applies to all of us – it is not about them, or, as one of my favorite editorialists would say, The Other.
What do we in our towns and neighborhoods need to be thinking about to support our aging friends, family and – yep, selves?
This is new territory for us. Never before on the planet have we had such a great percentage of folks past their “prime” years. While many in their mid-sixties and even seventies do not consider themselves elderly, or even old, at some point we are all going to face mobility issues, sight and/or hearing issues, and/or even cognitive challenges that go with getting older.
This is, indeed a double-whammy. Not for everyone, but many will experience both age and disability. (Today, almost 20% of the US population is considered “disabled” in some way. Couple that with aging, and one estimate has that by 2030 – not far away – fully a third of the population will be over 65 or have a disability – or both.)
Certainly, there are many, many approaches to addressing this, and there is lots of good work going on right here in the Granite State.
But it’s the built environment and its role that has not been tackled yet. That’s where Plan NH, and its Vibrant Villages NH initiative, come in. This is what we will be exploring for the foreseeable future.
Community design. Viable options for getting people around. Choices for living spaces (eg, for downsizing, for accommodating challenges). Having amenities nearby. These are all elements of a healthy community anyway – now we will also need to focus on those that support and aging population.
Look at where YOU live or work. How easy will it be to be there in 10 or 20 years? From no steps (inside and out) to smooth, wide (well-lit) sidewalks to wide doorways to accommodate a wheelchair … there are many things to consider. How would you get groceries, your hair cut, to a doctor or dentist when you no longer drive?
We have a lot to learn about this, and we will be doing so in the months ahead and sharing with planners, designers and developers as well as municipal folks themselves. And you, Dear Reader. Stay tuned.