As our population ages, it’s important to ensure that our communities are equipped to meet the needs of older adults. That’s why AARP created the Age-Friendly Communities program. This initiative helps cities and towns become more inclusive and accessible for people of all ages, with a focus on older adults.
Since 2020, LifePath, together with its partner FRCOG, has led an Age-Friendly initiative for Franklin County and the North Quabbin. The Age-Friendly Communities program is a multi-step process that involves assessment, planning, and implementation. The Franklin County/North Quabbin project is wrapping up its planning phase.
During this phase, communities create a plan to make changes that will improve the lives of older adults. These changes can take many forms, such as improving transportation options, creating more accessible housing, or increasing access to healthcare. The specific changes that a community makes will depend on its unique needs and resources.
One example of a successful rural Age-Friendly implementation is the village of Bowdoinham, Maine, a town of around 3,000 people. One of their key initiatives was to create a free wellness fair for adults, including demonstrations on fall prevention, dance training, and flu shots. They worked with a local Masons lodge to create a home repair program for elders. Additionally, they created a free door-to-door transportation service.
Another successful rural Age-Friendly implementation can be found in the town of Grayson County, Virginia. This community of around 15,000 people, about 50% of whom are age 50 or older, has implemented a number of changes to make the town more accessible for older adults. Given the potential for isolation of the rural residents, they prioritized communication in their implementation plan. They worked to make high-speed internet throughout the county. They also plan to develop a community fitness and wellness center to provide opportunities for exercise and physical fitness for older adults. At the center, residents will be able to access dental care in addition to other wellness offerings.
One of the keys to a successful Age-Friendly plan is community involvement. In both Bowdoinham and Grayson County, community members were involved in the planning and implementation process. This helped ensure that the changes that were made were reflective of the community’s needs and desires. Here in Franklin County and the North Quabbin, residents have been involved since the beginning and have made all the critical decisions regarding the project.
The Age-Friendly Communities program is an important initiative that helps cities and towns become more inclusive and accessible for people of all ages. Successful, rural Age-Friendly implementations, such as those in Bowdoinham and Grayson County, have shown that with community involvement and strategic partnerships, meaningful changes can be made that benefit everyone in the community. If you’d like to get involved in our local project, please contact me at lfeldman@LifePathMA.org.