When Salem resident Patricia Zaido learned about the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, she knew she wanted her city to be a part of it.
A former longtime faculty member and administrator at Salem State University, Zaido mentioned the age-friendly initiative to Mayor Kimberley Driscoll, who was enthusiastic. So Zaido got to work, forming a task force to tackle livability issues.
“It’s been a good 10 or 12 years that I’ve been interested in seeing how we could make aging in place more possible for most people,” Zaido, 79, said.
Established in 2012, the AARP network is the U.S. affiliate of the World Health Organization’s global initiative. The goal: Encourage communities to adapt and prepare for an aging population and, in the process, improve life for residents of every age.
To join, leaders must commit to improvements in areas such as transportation, housing, social participation, health services and good use of open space. Citizen involvement is vital.
More than 30 Massachusetts communities are in the network, which has more than 300 members. This year the state itself became the second in the nation to receive the designation, after New York. Salem, where residents 60-plus make up about 20 percent of the population, joined in 2015.
Transportation, housing are priorities
After learning from residents that transportation was a priority, the Salem task force conducted a study for an intracity shuttle system to connect locations not being served. Zaido is confident of funding.
The team is also creating a guide to city services and works with developers to encourage housing designs for all ages.
“We were the first on the North Shore and third in Massachusetts” to join the network, said Zaido. “Now it has mushroomed all over the state and country.”
Since joining the network, the city of Lawrence has committed to including dementia-friendly initiatives in planning.
“What I see in five years is a structure in place where people understand where to go for services, safe streets and sidewalks, walkable open spaces,” said Martha Velez, executive director of the Lawrence Council on Aging.
Velez and her team seek to tackle Lawrence’s housing shortage—which includes a six-year wait for senior housing—to improve public spaces and access to health services, and to increase volunteer and employment opportunities for residents.
Boston, the first Massachusetts member of the network, created a checklist to help businesses meet the needs of older residents, including those with dementia. The checklist encourages firms to think about logistics like font size for promotional materials as well as store-aisle width.
“We emphasize that it is not only good for older adults, but also potentially good for businesses,” said Andrea Burns, director of the city’s Age-Friendly Boston project.
Boston is also focused on employment and civic engagement.
“It’s a process of continual improvement,” said Emily Shea, who heads the Commission on Affairs of the Elderly. “So we’re never done, and that’s exciting because there’s always more work to do.”
For more on Age-Friendly Communities in the state, contact Antron Watson at 866-448-3621. Go to aarp.org/livable to learn more about the program.
Michelle Cerulli McAdams is a former Massachusetts writer now living in Florida.