‘We Should Talk’: Cross-Sector Conversations on Livable Communities Show Great Promise

‘We Should Talk’: Cross-Sector Conversations on Livable Communities Show Great Promise


By Rodney Harrell and Stephanie K. Firestone

The thousands of community planners who will come together this May at the American Planning Association’s (APA) National Planning Conference are increasingly aware of a demographic trend: nearly 20 percent of the US population will be over age 65 by 2030.

Translation: Planners need to get together with aging network professionals and talk!

Why? While many aging network professionals are in the business of designing plans with individuals to help them to thrive in their homes and communities for as long as possible; planners, meanwhile, envision and bring form to livable communities.

The conversation, in fact, has already begun. An in-depth discussion of this kind took place in March through a half-day Livable Communities Summit at the American Society on Aging’s (ASA) annual conference in Chicago. AARP sponsored this first-ever joint event between the ASA and the APA, where over 250 professionals from both sectors explored areas of overlap and discussed how to collaborate better moving forward.

 

 

Participants discussed a number of tools, including:

 

The summit also engaged participants in a survey on these emerging cross-sector relationships (a follow-up survey and results will be publicly shared at a later date) and presented case studies from a variety of community types across the country where planning and aging practitioners are increasingly intertwining disciplines. Summit organizers were even intentional regarding seating arrangements, mixing planners and aging professionals together to ensure dynamic exchange between those with diverse perspectives.

Participants discussed issues and opportunities that impact many communities:

 

  • the overlap between the work of Area Agencies on Aging and planning & community development;
  • options for creating social interaction in public spaces;
  • the multiple intersections of zoning and architecture, community space and retrofitting homes;
  • exploring housing options with nearby universities/colleges;
  • creating ways to engage non-traditional partners;
  • making the economic case for livable communities;
  • planners working with older adults in meaningful ways;
  • intergenerational solutions;
  • advocacy training;
  • how to approach the intersection of livable communities and the aging population when local government has no interest or awareness; and
  • jointly working with builders to see their work through an aging lens.

 

One participant at the Summit articulated that policy changes must “pay attention to the needs and wants of older adults, not what we think is best.” To be sure, these are conversations that should be happening in every community.

Planners everywhere are confronting the challenges posed by aging communities. At the event planners were able to find value in the realization that there are “other planners like me involved in this…there are many people keenly interested in this mission that I can join forces with.” Moreover, using national resources and working with local aging network professionals enhances planners’ ability to address challenges and maximize the benefits of the asset that older adults in the community represent.

The Summit dialogue should mark the beginning of a strengthening collaboration. We at the AARP Public Policy Institute welcome the ideas of planners and aging network professionals alike on how to continue these cross-sector discussions at the local, regional, and national levels. We also would love to hear from all sectors about your own experiences engaging in these conversations.

 

 

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Rodney Harrell, PhD is the director of livability thought leadership for AARP.  He discusses livable community issues @DrUrbanPolicy. 
Stephanie K. Firestone is a senior strategic policy advisor covering the areas of health and age-friendly communities for AARP International.

The AARP Public Policy Institute is the home of the Livability Index and many other resources. Visit www.aarp.org/livable for information on making communities more livable.
Follow Dr. Harrell on FacebookTwitterPinterest, LinkedIn and Google+.



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‘Dementia Friends’ Initiative Creates Respectful Communities for People of All Ages

‘Dementia Friends’ Initiative Creates Respectful Communities for People of All Ages


In 2016, an estimated 5.4 million Americans had Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia. And while people of all ages can have dementia, 8.8 percent of adults age 65 and over have the disease.

With greater longevity and rapidly increasing numbers of individuals with dementia, we are all likely to encounter a person living with dementia as we go about our lives. We may witness a person living with the disease facing any number of challenges in navigating the community. Given the stigma around dementia in our society, people with the disease may be uncomfortable asking for help, or they may avoid venturing out in public at all — resulting in their suffering still further, from isolation.

To address these challenges, Dementia Friendly America (DFA) has launched a new tool that we can use to educate ourselves about how each of us as individuals can best interact with and support people living with dementia. We can take a few very simple and quick steps to become Dementia Friends. According to Ron Grant, who lives with dementia and is cochair of DFA, “Since there is no cure for dementia diseases and disorders, being a Dementia Friend will help those of us living with dementia to continue to live well in community.”

Dementia Friendly America, a multisector collaborative that includes AARP and a number of other leading national organizations and funding partners, is catalyzing a movement to more effectively support and serve those across America who are living with dementia and their family and friend care partners. While DFA catalyzes community-wide efforts, the Dementia Friends initiative enables each of us as individuals to play our part.

Dementia Friends U.S. is modeled after an effort that began in the United Kingdom as a way to help people learn more about what it is like to live with dementia and turn that understanding into action. DFA is the Dementia Friends U.S. licensee and has collaborated closely with the U.K. to bring the best aspects of the program to the U.S.

The first step in becoming a Dementia Friend is learning to recognize the signs of dementia (or other cognitive impairment), which could include any of the following signs:

  • Difficulty communicating
  • Getting lost
  • Becoming frustrated
  • Confusion
  • Repeating words or phrases
  • Poor judgment
  • Unusual or inappropriate behavior

 

It doesn’t matter if a person exhibiting these signs actually has dementia; what matters is that all people are equipped to respond appropriately and in a supportive manner. A series of short online training videos depicts situations where you may encounter someone living with dementia in a variety of community settings including a restaurant, grocery store, library or bank or on a public transit system — and provides information on how you can help in such situations. After viewing the videos, you can become a Dementia Friend by committing to an activity that will help someone in your community with dementia.

Take just a few minutes to become a Dementia Friend at DementiaFriendsUSA.org. You can also check out Dementia Friendly America to learn how DFA is fostering “dementia friendly” communities across the country and how your community can become a safe and respectful place for individuals and families that are addressing this disease.

As we say at Dementia Friendly America: Living with value and purpose in the community is a human right.

 

Stephanie K. Firestone is a senior strategic policy advisor, health and age-friendly communities, AARP International, and a member of the Dementia Friendly America National Council.

 



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