Age-Friendly Cities and Communities: Helping Seniors and the Planet
Humans are social creatures, relying on one another for survival and support. Recent research in JAMA reveals without adequate community structures, deaths of despair and the diseases that often precede it proliferate. Many American communities have far to go in making their neighborhoods safer and richer in the resources residents need to thrive.
Everyone and everything are interconnected. Fortunately, this means improvements designed to benefit one sector often boost others. For example, many community projects geared towards restoring social safety nets also help the environment.
How can the country improve its sense of connection and community while bettering life for its most seasoned citizens? Here’s a field guide to age-friendly cities and communities helping seniors and the planet.
Many older adults continue to live independently. However, they voluntarily give up driving as they find it less safe — but they still need to run errands. Improving public transportation infrastructure is one way to help seniors and the planet.
Some options exist already. For example, older adults can contact the National Aging and Disability Transportation Center to connect with community transportation resources such as specialized buses to get to and from medical appointments. However, many seniors don’t realize these resources exist. Municipalities can do a better job of advertising available amenities while implementing new services like light rail.
Public transportation alone helps communities go greener. However, more can be done. Some cities have already switched to electric buses to reduce emissions. Such programs benefit the planet and the immediate environment by reducing smog. Emissions can produce diseases in humans — lowering particulate counts in the air improves the quality of life for people of all ages.
Communities can also go greener and help older adults get their daily exercise quotient by investing in bike-share programs. People check out a bike in one location and return it at the next when they reach their destination. Such programs reduce emissions while encouraging exercise.
Promoting Community and Social Interaction
Loneliness can kill. Research indicates it increases the chances of all-cause mortality and can mean the difference between recovering and succumbing to illness.
Here’s where communities with strong parks and recreation departments can do their part to keep things green while promoting healthy social interaction among older adults. For example, community garden projects get volunteers out, working with others in the sun and meeting people who share their enthusiasm for growing things. Tree-planting initiatives that garner community involvement help clear smog while keeping things social.
City and community leaders can also encourage policies such as flextime and telecommuting. Casual sports leagues, as well as arts and crafts clubs, provide valuable social outlets. They also produce a minimal carbon footprint which helps seniors and the planet.
Making Work More Flexible
Society tends to think of older adults as retirees, but many members of this population continue to work. Cities with strong labor protections encourage this generation to contribute to society while enjoying the peace and tranquility that typically accompanies the sunset years.
For example, while the federal government has not budged on the minimum wage for way too long, most action originates at the state and local levels. Cities can adjust their minimum based on the local cost of living, preventing older adults from being exploited for less than a livable hourly rate.
Additionally, city and community leaders can encourage policies such as flextime and telecommuting. Such benefits are essential for many older adults to safely remain in the workforce. For example, this population remains at the greatest risk from COVID-19, even if vaccinated. Those immunocompromised, or undergoing cancer treatment, may prefer staying behind closed doors to perform their jobs.
Protecting Senior Safety
Promoting livable wages isn’t only a matter of basic human dignity. It’s also essential to preserve everyone’s safety. Remember that interconnectivity everyone shares? Reducing income inequality lowers the violent crime rate significantly. Most people simply lack the psychological makeup to perpetrate evil for evil’s sake — they commit robberies and the like out of desperation.
Violent crime isn’t the only danger this population faces. They’re also at a higher risk of severe complications from infectious diseases. Sustainability and public safety intersect here, as taking green initiatives may reduce the chances of the next pandemic. Scientists warn climate change forces shifts in environmental conditions that allow new viruses and bacteria to proliferate where they previously remained locked in isolated geographic areas.
Expanding community health resources is likewise vital to promoting senior safety. Communities can do so and increase their sustainability footprint by encouraging telehealth initiatives. Such programs allow older adults to consult with a nurse by phone, determining whether to drive to seek care or stay safely at home for rest and TLC. Doing so reduces carbon emissions — fewer cars on the road unnecessarily — and protects seniors from unnecessarily exposing themselves to areas with high germ concentrations.
Making Homes Sustainable and Senior-Friendly
Homebuilders can join in the efforts to create age-friendly cities and communities that also score high marks for sustainability. One of the biggest advantages of modern technology is smart home innovations allowing for automation and power saving. Construction crews can prewire houses for such systems, benefiting future residents.
For example, the Department of Energy estimates people can save approximately 1% on their home’s heating and cooling for each degree of adjustment over eight hours. That’s a considerable break for older adults who struggle to cover their monthly bills on fixed incomes. It also frees them from the burden of having to remember to adjust the dial before leaving home. Smart home tech even allows them to do so from their smartphone while on the road.
Furthermore, such technology can keep older adults safer. For example, they might climb into bed feeling achy at the end of a long day — then wonder if they locked the front door. There’s no need to brave the cold floor and navigate stairs when they can turn the deadbolt and set the alarm from their phone.
Finally, most older adults prefer to age in place versus seeking a retirement community. Builders can help here, too. Single-story builds eliminate the need for stairs, while lifts allow those with multiple-floor homes to navigate them without fear of falling. They can include garages so seniors can unload their groceries on a flat surface, not a steep driveway.
They can also construct homes designed for multigenerational living with included mother-in-law suites. Such models allow younger family members to get off the rental roller coaster while sharing living expenses with older relatives. They also maintain individual privacy while keeping folks close together in case of emergencies.
Age-Friendly Cities and Communities
The world is interconnected, and the innovations that benefit one sector often improve others. This dynamic can be seen in creating age-friendly cities and communities designed to enhance human quality of life while improving overall sustainability.
Cities and communities can simultaneously help seniors and the planet. These improvements benefit the older population and generations to come.
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