Recently, I led a discussion with a group of older adults asking their opinions about whether or not they considered Beverly to be age-friendly. Using a template developed by the World Health Organization, the participants weighed in on eight age-friendly dimensions: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, respect and inclusion, social participation, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community supports and health services.
The participants understood that the age-friendly concept did not necessarily single out the elderly living in the community but rather that decisions made for infrastructure improvements and new development take into account what is best for the entire population. For example, wide sidewalks with curb cut-outs are helpful not only for wheelchairs and walkers but also for baby strollers and families, and adequate nighttime lighting is good for seniors with vision impairments and also good for college students and restaurant patrons who frequent the main streets after dark.
So, what did we learn from this group of socially responsible participants? Of the attendees, four lived in their own homes, and the others lived in senior or subsidized housing. Most felt squeezed by housing costs, and affordability became one of the buzzwords of the discussion. The homeowners seemed to realize that they needed help with yard work, snow shoveling and home maintenance, but short of help from kind neighbors or younger family members, most were left puzzled on how to find the right help at the right time.
Another topic of discussion had to do with engaging the restaurants and retailers in promoting specials during the time of day older adults are most likely to be out. They were happy to leave late-night dining to the younger set but wanted an opportunity to dine out and enjoy special menu prices between the hours of 4 and 7 p.m. They would love more businesses to be based in the downtown area, and all agreed that more business activity would be good for the entire community. Personally, I’m dreaming of a Trader Joe’s-like outpost, and a friend is hoping for a soup-and-bread bakery! Families, college students and elders would all enjoy these types of new additions, don’t you think?