When it comes to aging, there is no place like home. A 2016 survey by AARP found 76% of people age 50+ strongly agree with the statement, “I would like to remain in my current home as long as possible.” The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities can help people do so by assisting counties, cities, towns and rural areas best meet the needs of residents of all ages. During this national health crisis, age-friendly communities offer added benefits.
AARP North Carolina Manager of Advocacy and Livable Communities Lisa Riegel explains, “During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans are getting more first-hand knowledge of how deficiencies in health care, transportation options, social inclusion and other aspects of healthy aging challenge many older adults. The lack of “age-friendly” amenities make it increasingly difficult to for people to get by in an emergency and to age in their own homes and communities.”
Today, more than 100 million Americans, and nearly 4 million Tar Heels, live in an area covered by the AARP Age-Friendly Network. According to AARP, “The common thread among the enrolled communities and states is the belief that the places where we live are more livable, and better able to support people of all ages, when local leaders commit to improving the quality of life for the very young, the very old, and everyone in between.”
AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities
AARP engages with elected officials, partner organizations and local leaders to guide communities through the age-friendly network’s assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation processes.
People of all ages benefit from the adoption of policies and programs that make neighborhoods walkable, feature transportation options, enable access to key services, provide opportunities to participate in community activities, and support housing that is affordable and adaptable. Well-designed, age-friendly communities foster economic growth and make for happier, healthier residents of all ages.
Added benefits during the pandemic
During COVID-19 or future pandemics, the adoption of these improvements, programs and policies are even more vital. Let us look at one of the greatest health risks of aging – social isolation. Even in the best of times, social isolation is a significant problem. In North Carolina, more than 788,000 people over the age of 50 live alone and are at higher risk of social isolation, which is now magnified by the “social distancing” requirements.
In an age-friendly community, people are already cooperating, collaborating and making positive changes. Another major benefit of being part of the AARP Network is learning from each other. Age Friendly Communities are ahead of others when it comes to having a volunteer base in place to respond to emergencies and having done some work in disaster response and preparedness.
For example, Age-Friendly Columbus, Ohio, established a toll-free hotline for those feeling lonely or isolated. Volunteers took hundreds of calls in just a couple of weeks helping others with needed emotional support.
Age-Friendly Columbus also delivered over 750 “Necessities Bags” to people in 43 zips codes. The bags included 3 to 5 days of shelf-stable food, toilet paper, shampoo, soap, etc., educational materials: File of Life, Census, and other resources
In Greenwich, Connecticut, age-friendly work is fostering connections through a program called CONNECTT where seniors can connect on a phone, computer or tablet during 30-minute sessions with teachers, students, artists, and friends.
For communities currently in the AARP Network, the focus during COVID-19 appears to be on:
• Food supply/access/ delivery
• Access to information
• Fostering connections to combat social isolation
Across North Carolina and the nation, AARP has been working hard to present members with the most up-to-date and accurate information including important weekly telephone town halls with experts. AARP North Carolina will have more and more virtual offerings until Tar Heels can gather in large groups again.
Riegel adds, “However, here in North Carolina, issues like broadband access for many communities left behind still need to be resolved. So part of advancing great communities for all, is advocating for the changes needed to advance our quality of life.”
If you are interested in helping make North Carolina communities better places for all, learn more about the Age-Friendly Network and how you can get started or involved.
Is your county part of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities? If not, learn more about how you can get started.
- Wake County
- Durham County
- Orange County
- Mecklenburg County
- Buncombe County
- Lenoir County
- Guilford County
- Forsyth County
- Matthews, NC
- Archdale, NC
WATCH: Community leaders explain why they are interested in the AARP Network of Age Friendly States and Communities: