The Age-Friendly Grand Rapids initiative begins three-year action plan

In conjunction with the World Health Organization's Age-friendly Cities and Communities program, the American Association of Retired Persons, and the Area Agency on Aging of West Michigan, Grand Rapids is working toward becoming an age-friendly atmosphere for the older adult population, defined as anyone 50-years old and up. Having begun the first phase of the initiative in 2016, which addressed four core issues faced by this population, the committee has moved into the latter half of the phase, which includes devising a three-year community action plan that will improve the quality of life for the older population.

Once the three-year plan is complete, and the committee implements it within Grand Rapids, a progress report encompassing five years of the initiative’s results will be evaluated to continually make the proper accommodations for that age group.

One of the four core issues the action plan will tackle is communication. For people who grew up alongside key pieces of technology, such as the internet and cell phones, the way they are able to communicate amongst one another and with the world is seemingly efficient. However, for the aging population, because technology moves so fast, it can be a difficult task to consciously educate themselves.

“A lot of our older adults are wanting to be more available online, for instance, or communicate with family members, or get their news and information by using either a computer or a smartphone,” says Age-Friendly Community Coordinator Virginia Smith. “They’re wanting information on how to use newer technology.”

“One of the other issues we’ve found in communication was that a surprising number of older adults receive their information through face-to-face communication. So how do we reach out to them?”

Smith mentions Hurricane Katrina, a notable instance where communication was a barrier for the older population. “Many older adults were left behind because they didn’t have the information they needed,” she says.

Another focal point the action plan will seek to improve is housing. Smith notes that much like millennials, older adults are seeking affordable housing.

“There are older adults that live in the suburbs, who have a big a house that they raised their family in, but now that big house is too much for them and they would like to down-size,” she says. “But maybe their mortgage is already paid off, and they can’t find anything affordable for them to move into. The same thing with our older adults who might be lower-income or homeless –– they are also looking for affordable housing.”

Solutions to affordable housing include increasing fair rental practices for seniors, educating the community and policymakers about housing options, and focusing on collaboration.

Ideally, Smith says, an age-friendly Grand Rapids community would be inclusive to residents and visitors of all ages –– a place where each individual experience would be made more comfortable and convenient, as opposed to making modifications that will take away from one group’s experience in order to enhance another’s.

“When we’re focusing on our outdoor spaces, and we’re looking at one of the things our older adults are facing and it’s walking. That means we have to have safe sidewalks,” says Smith. “That means that we have curb cuts that make it easier to transition from the sidewalk to the street for someone in a wheelchair or a walker. But that will not only benefit an older adult, but it will also benefit a younger person that may be pushing a baby stroller, or a business owner who’s making door-to-door deliveries.”

As the world continues to evolve, it is likely that the needs of the older generation will change as well. However, as long as the intent to create a secure living environment for this group remains, there will be visible changes in their quality of life over the next few years –– and hopefully, changes that foster mindfulness in individuals on the outside looking in.

Photos courtesy of Age-Friendly Grand Rapids. 
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