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Being an Age-Friendly Community

October 24, 2016

By Pamela Leland, PhD

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 “age-friendly 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 am to 5 pm? 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.