Advocating as a Caregiver for the Creation of Age-Friendly Communities
By Branka Primetica | 03/15/2022
Creating age-friendly communities can be beneficial to the well-being of not only older adults, but also those who care for them, regardless of age. These communities can provide older adults with the means to age in place with the support of family and friend caregivers. As we care for loved ones, we can also be part of the movement to promote age-friendly communities and advocate for change. Below are some examples of how we can become more involved and help plan for successful aging in our community.
What issues do we or loved ones come across in our communities? What is important to us as we care for a loved one who is aging?
As a loved one ages and our caregiving role becomes greater, we may begin to pay closer attention to how well our community addresses the needs of older adults. We may ask:
- Are the sidewalks even so that older adults can safely walk to the grocery store without fear of falling?
- Are there city-wide transportation options available?
- Are the grocery store employees able to help if a loved one has poor vision and is not able to read a label?
- Will the cashier at stores have some knowledge of how to communicate with older loved ones who are experiencing memory loss?
- Is there somewhere older loved ones can go during the day for activities and socialization, especially if they are unable to stay at home alone all day?
- Is there someone that can come into the home so that loved ones can remain living independently for as long as possible?
- Are there alternate housing options nearby, such as assisted living facilities or retirement communities?
- Where will we turn to for help to support us and maintain our quality of life as a caregiver, whether it’s through a support group, respite that provides relief from caregiving or another service?
The number of questions and concerns may seem overwhelming, but we should know that our questions will generate ideas and result in change.
How do our communities address these issues?
As caregivers, we have the right to seek answers to our questions and ensure that city officials, local agencies, businesses and other key players are continuously informed about the needs of older adults. Think about the strengths of your community and examples of what has already been done to address the needs of older adults and ease the burdens of caregiving. Check with your local Area Agency on Aging, city office on aging or senior center to inquire about your community’s plan for developing an age-friendly community and to provide input on further developing the plan. Here are some simple examples of what communities are doing to become more age-friendly:
- Installing benches throughout the city and providing folding chairs to local businesses so that older adults can sit if they need a break.
- Organizing a walking group, cooking class or other engaging activities to promote physical activity and healthy eating.
- Linking with local high schools to develop community service projects and other intergenerational programs with older adults.
What are some examples of community improvements you can think of that not only help your loved one, but also help you feel more secure that the community is helping to care for your loved one?
What can our communities do to improve?
There are several resources that we can turn to get ideas on what communities are doing to create an age-friendly environment:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) is helping communities become more age-friendly and promoting aging in place by recognizing the importance of physical, social and environmental factors. WHO provides guidance to communities to help assess their outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social opportunities, volunteering/employment, communications and support/health services.
- The AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities encourages states, cities and towns to implement environmental, economic and social changes to improve the health and well-being of older adults. This website provides examples of what communities across the country are doing to create age-friendly environments.
- Dementia Friends USA provides a free online tutorial on how to recognize the signs of dementia, and simple actions to take in creating a dementia friendly community where the needs of those with dementia are understood and supported. This tutorial provides an overview of what it’s like to live with dementia in different community settings and how to take action to address a variety of issues.
These resources will not only help us recognize the strengths and weaknesses of our communities regarding a loved one’s care, but it will also help generate ideas to share with our community leaders, businesses and other entities. We can also use this information to encourage loved ones and fellow caregivers to get involved in advocacy efforts. As the African proverb states, “it takes a village,” and to move towards an age-friendly community, that group effort could very well begin with us.