City solutions for elder orphans

09/07/2016 05:11 pm ET

On average, the number of people 65 and over who live alone in the U.S. range between 12 and 51 percent, depending on the city. The graying of America forecasts the aggregate to double. Factors that create the trend of aging people, boomers, in particular, to live alone are high divorce rates and childless marriages, according to AARP.  The U.S. Census Bureau estimates, 17.5 percent of individuals age 50 and up were either divorced or separated as of 2011. So, the numbers of people without a spouse or child continue to rise.

As a society, are we prepared to serve the scores of older adults who will eventually need some level of care at home?

The Milken Institute hopes to gain momentum with city officials to begin now before the graying Americans overwhelm local infrastructures. The Institute created a roadmap for cities to follow when designing strategies to help mature Americans age in place. Today, over 140 city Mayors pledge to support older residents to remain healthy, active and engaged.

Since I am 65 and live alone, it’s refreshing to see city planners actively involved in making life a lot easier for us. Even members of the elder orphan Facebook group have voiced concern about crucial topics like affordable housing, high medical costs, and the need for accessible transportation. And these are part of the Institute’s roadmap.

We cannot afford to overlook the needs of older residents across the country. So many live within the shadows of suburbia and rural locations. They are the ones who go unnoticed. There’s so much to do, and business influencers and senior care experts struggle to find answers. I’ve asked the Seniorcare.com aging council,  “What can local officials and thought leaders do to mitigate the hard issues older adults contend with that strain their independence and security primarily when living at a distance from needed services?”

Change Residents’ Attitude

A city’s aged population can be seen as a financial burden or valued resource. The best way to ensure the latter is by optimizing the physical and mental health of its residents. Urban design (creating a walk-friendly city), zoning (which types of community-based care can be built, and where), and tax breaks (keeping LTC costs affordable by meeting supply with demand) are all steps to consider. Stephen D. Forman, CLTC.

Just start the conversation at local city meetings and become familiar with current programs and services to determine where the gaps exist. Then strengthen those programs that work and find non-traditional solutions that address the significant concerns. The most important takeaway is to start the conversation. Eboni Green.

Improve Transportation

We need to figure out transportation because people need to get out of their homes. Some health issues may affect their ability to drive, and low-cost driving options are in demand. Kathryn Watson.

Invest to improve the walkability aspects of cities―iIt helps all residents. Options like transportation, city parks, sidewalks, security, pedestrian safety, housing and retail located nearby create a livable environment. Some cities are buying into the concept but many are not. Kathy Birkett.

Create a Culture of Support

The Age-Friendly DC Initiative performs a block-by-block walk over the summer to check in on seniors living alone and to inform them about transportation, meals and nutrition programs. The AARP is also involved in spreading the word about age-friendly policies, many aimed at preventing isolation by promoting intergenerational social and networking activities. Evan Farr.

As a community, we need a network of support programs to intervene during a crisis but also we need strategies to focus on prevention as well. Volunteer-based programs can go a long way to stretch resources and create feelings of community. Seniors can be both the recipients of volunteer help as well as the volunteers which keep them connected. Shannon Martin.

Gain backing from companies, medical groups, and other businesses to promote programs that help residents age in place. Here in the greater Sacramento Area Valley, we have several useful options including Placer County’s Seniors First which delivers services and long-term support to Placer County seniors so that they can maintain independence. Kaye Swain.

Minimize Isolation

Offer low-price transportation, create senior centers, and design outreach solutions that allow adults to feel support while living alone. By providing volunteer opportunities, seniors gain a sense of contributing and giving back to our society which can reduce the feelings of isolation. Ben Mandelbaum.

Affordable Housing

City leaders must increase budgets for programs to reach and serve adults who are aging alone. More social workers and case managers are needed to connect older adults to services that promote healthy aging. Increase the affordable senior housing options, coordinated medical care, and programs that encourage socialization. Connie Chow.

Understand the Needs

Establish a benchmark. Use planning tools to locate and define the “aging and living alone group.” Figure out what makes them tick. Think access, matching projections to need (medical, municipal, social, housing, etc.) Identify services for development or refinement. Nancy Ruffner.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS