Awareness, action create ‘aging-friendly’ communities

I’m a midlife marathon runner. To stay in shape, I’ve run countless miles through Candler Park, Inman Park, the Fourth Ward, Ormewood and many other intown neighborhoods. I love running these areas as I can view some of the exciting changes in the city, such as the Beltline and Atlanta Streetcar project. And I can “Imagine Memorial” right along with those involved in the Memorial Drive project.

I am also a gerontologist. From this perspective, I am troubled that our communities are unsafe places for residents who may have difficulties getting around their neighborhoods. As much as I love running through Atlanta, the uneven sidewalks, dangling overhead wires and unsafe intersections can be treacherous.

And as a baby boomer, I think of these issues often because of the burgeoning number of people like me who are part of our communities.

Cities are just coming to realize the importance of planning for the growing numbers of us who might have trouble crossing streets, driving our own cars or navigating the environment in other ways. A survey reports only 30 percent of local governments have a strategic plan that includes input from older adults about ways to create “aging-friendly” communities.

What will this mean when one in every five people is over age 65 — the population predicted for 2030?

In later life, a challenging physical environment can lead to problems such as falls, injuries and social isolation. Changes to vision and mobility limitations can make daily activities more complicated.

It’s important for everyone to be more aware of how walking, talking and shopping can present challenges as we age. As a teacher, I start the semester by having my students “try on” aging. They must navigate a sidewalk while wearing glasses smeared with petroleum jelly; hold a conversation in a noisy restaurant while wearing earplugs; and go to an unfamiliar mall and find a bathroom when a buzzer rings. With shock and alarm, they learn how difficult some typical activities become under these conditions.

Changing communities to be more aging-friendly has costs. For example, as older adults stop driving, many locations offer few alternatives. However, developing a safe and accessible public transportation system will benefit everyone (in the way of convenience, less traffic and better air quality).

For many older adults, transportation systems promote engagement, such as going to religious services or the library, and the ability to manage their households — getting groceries or prescriptions filled. Besides transportation, communities need to plan for affordable housing options, zoning laws that promote higher-density residential units and mixed commercial use, and tax structures that allow older adults to remain in their homes.

Regardless of changes, some older adults will need more supportive or specialized facilities, such as assisted living or nursing homes. However, the national average cost for a nursing home bed is between $75,000 and $80,000 per year. It makes sense to keep older people healthy and safe, and to reduce the number of admissions to nursing homes.

In addition to fiscal logic, there are significant quality of life issues to consider. When you envision your own later life, where do you see yourself? What do you hope for your parents as they age? Strategic and age-specific community planning, such as the Atlanta Regional Commission’s Lifelong Communities, could allow older individuals to remain in familiar surroundings and stay engaged in their communities for as long as possible.

Each of us can be involved in making communities safer for everyone, including older residents. Let your neighborhood groups, city council members and county leaders know about hazardous places in your environment, like buckling sidewalks, poorly lit streets and dangerous street crossings. Raise questions about budget priorities to candidates, and vote for those who have visions about aging-friendly communities. Develop a neighborhood watch program that brings residents together to build strong bonds, and work with law enforcement to make the community a safer place for everyone.

Community planning and redevelopment — in our established neighborhoods, and in newer projects popping up around the metro area — must take into account the population of older adults who are aging in place.

The growth in our region is good for our economy. Let’s also be sure it’s good for residents of all ages who live in all of our metro Atlanta neighborhoods.

Dr. Nancy Kropf is a professor in the Andrew Young School of Policy Studies at Georgia State University. She always finishes her 26.2-mile races.

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Latest ACA repeal push reignites debate

“Where have all the flowers gone? Gone to graveyards everyone. When will they ever learn?” - Pete Seeger. Oh no, not again. The new ACA repeal Graham- Cassidy bill will put middle- and low-income people into graves. I can’t give you an exact number as Graham and Cassidy are insisting on pushing this ill-advised bill to a vote without...
Opinion: GOP’s three big gambles with health care

The Washington Post reports on the latest health-care effort from Sens. Bill Cassidy, R-La., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Ron Johnson, R-Wis.: The latest proposal would give states control over billions in federal health-care spending, repeal the law’s key mandates and enact deep cuts to Medicaid, the federally funded insurance...
Opinion: Trump finds the seam, drives the wedge
Opinion: Trump finds the seam, drives the wedge

  (AP) One of the great inherent powers of the presidency is its power to set the national agenda — “the bully pulpit,” as Teddy Roosevelt called it. So when Donald Trump gazed across the political landscape, at difficult, complex issues such as North Korea, the devastation of Puerto Rico and the recovery...
Readers Write: Sept. 26

Results of nuclear war beyond imagination For anyone (particularly Kim Jong Un of North Korea) that might be contemplating a nuclear war, they should read the book written by Pat Frank, titled “Alas, Babylon” and published by Harper Perennial in 1993. This book (although fictional) rather clearly intimates what the civilization of the world...
Opinion: President Trump vs. the NFL is peak 2017
Opinion: President Trump vs. the NFL is peak 2017

Falcons owner Arthur Blank joins arms with his players during the playing of the national anthem prior to the game against the Detroit Lions on Sunday in Detroit. (Leon Halip / Getty Images) There is no redeeming quality to the unfolding war of words between President Trump and professional football players. It is a duel...
More Stories