How Communities Can Attract Seniors
Rural communities are great places to raise a family. They can also be the perfect place for people to live in their retirement years. What does a community need to be attractive to seniors?
In general, seniors want what everyone wants in a town: great livability and quality of life. This page will discuss how communities can prepare themselves to attract boomers as the US population ages.
A volunteer prepares a light fixture before painting the walls in the hallway at an apartment building for senior citizens.
What is Livability? Think of it as all the factors that add up to a community’s quality of life. It includes the built and natural environments, economic prosperity, social stability and equity, educational opportunity, and cultural, entertainment and recreation possibilities.
Quality of Life (mostlivable.org) is different for each of us, but in general includes factors such as health, safety, education, housing and transportation, which together determine whether a particular community is a desirable place to live and work.
Some examples to improve community livability include:
- Seniors Making Art - A craft training course directed at providing older individuals with the opportunity of creating works of art. The program was founded in 1991 by Dale Chihuly of Seattle, Washington, who took inspiration from his mother to create an initiative to enhance the lives of other adults through learning art. The programs were designed to give participants the confidence to get started and to encourage them to tell their personal stories through artistic expression.
- Silver-Haired Legislature - The legislature serves the five Missouri counties of Cass, Clay, Jackson, Platte, and Ray. It consists of an elected body of officials who are all at least 60 years of age. Voting occurs each year at the local Dept. of Senior Services senior centers. All county residents aged 60 and over are eligible to vote for the Silver-Haired Legislature. Once elected, the senators and representatives from each area center gather to ascertain the most important issues facing seniors, and then draw up bills and resolutions addressing these issues.
Best Practices for Your Community
In a survey of thousands of cities and communities across the US, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a) discovered many communities are not prepared to serve the aging population boom that is expected when millions of baby boomers reach retirement age.
The National Association of Area Agencies on Aging has developed 10 “best practices” to help communities prepare for the aging peak in 2030, when they estimate one in every five Americans will be over age 65. Small towns and remote rural areas can adapt these to suit their situation and needs.
- Preventive health care – including health and “lifestyle” education, immunizations and health screenings – to reduce injuries and the onset of chronic diseases. Include a range of in-home services that will help older adults stay in their homes longer.
- Nutrition education to promote healthy eating through a person’s entire lifespan, and community-sponsored nutrition programs like home-delivered meals for older adults who have difficulty preparing their own meals.
- Age-appropriate fitness programs and recreational facilities that offer walking trails, benches and fitness equipment.
- Safe driving assistance, including larger, easier-to-read road signage, grooved lane dividers, reflective road markings and dedicated left-turn lanes. Include driver assessments and training to promote safe driving for all ages, especially after strokes or other health incidents. Make transportation options available for people who cannot or do not want to drive.
- Special planning and training for public safety personnel and other first responders to help them locate and assist older adults during emergencies and disasters.
- Home modification programs to help people adjust for special needs. Include zoning and subdivision plans that promote a variety of affordable, accessible housing located near medical, commercial and other desired services, as well as shared housing options for older adults and their caregivers.
- Tax assistance and property-tax relief for people in financial need, and programs to protect older adults against scams and elder abuse.
- Job training, re-training and lifelong learning opportunities, plus flexible employment options that will attract and retain older workers.
- Community engagement opportunities, including serving on community boards and commissions, as well as volunteer opportunities in local government and nonprofit organizations.
- Single point of access to ALL aging information and services in the community, and the strategic expansion of services that will help older adults age with dignity and independence in their homes and communities.
From a 2006 study on “The Maturing of America” by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging:
- Stratham, NH modified its zoning ordinance to provide an “Affordable Senior Housing” zone, without minimum lot sizes, to encourage the development of smaller structures suitable for “empty nesters.”
- Buncombe County, NC launched the Mountain Mobility Senior Bus program to encourage public transportation usage among the county’s growing in-migration of older adults.
- Mansfield, MA maintains emergency medical information files for every senior, as well as an Alzheimer’s tracking system.
- Fairfax County, VA reorganized their home care service delivery system to a cluster care model, aligning services around Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities within the county’s 400 square mile radius.
- Laredo, TX provides seniors with smaller trash receptacles, upon request.
- Peachtree, GA is expanding and improving its multi-use paths to interconnect all city areas, so citizens can get from place to place without a car.
- Five Massachusetts towns – Rockport, Southborough, Newbury, Medway and Swampscott – have a tax reduction/tax work-off program for seniors are community volunteers.
- Maumelle, AR created a Senior Services department to address seniors’ transportation, educational, social, and recreational needs in a compassionate and efficient manner.
- Scottsdale, AZ has created a program that trains teens aged 14-18 to assist low-income seniors or disabled residents with home improvement projects.
- Reno, NV provides transportation and vouchers for low-income seniors to use at farmers markets throughout the community.
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
AARP - a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization that helps people 50 and over improve the quality of their lives. Their website has sections on Health, Money, Work, Home & Garden, Food, Travel, Entertainment and Technology, much of it accessible to non-members.
A Blueprint for Action: Developing a Livable Community for All Ages (link opens PDF) - A 74-page pdf that identifies key challenges and action steps, a checklist of key features for aging in place, and an extensive resource section.
The Maturing of America, Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population (link opens PDF) - A 32-page pdf with example communities and policies.
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