RIC Conference on Building Age-Friendly Communities

Jan Mutchler, professor of gerontology and director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston, would like to see age-friendly communities in every city and state in the country.

Mutchler presented the keynote at the April 13 conference “Building Age-Friendly Communities,” sponsored by the Rhode Island College Gerontology Center and the RIC Health Care Administration Program.

She defined age-friendly communities as ones that offer accessible transportation, affordable housing, quality community health care, employment and volunteer opportunities, as well as environments where older adults have public places to gather for social and civic events. When these needs are lacking, it affects the quality of life for older adults.

In a videotaped interview presented by Mutchler, a senior talked about the exorbitant cost of housing for his age group, particularly for those with no retirement benefits, and the scarcity of senior-living facilities. In his community, he said, “sixty-five people are on a waiting list for 30 units.”

In Rhode Island, the 65-and-over population is projected to increase from 15 percent to 24 percent in only 15 years, Mutchler noted. This is why it is so important that age-friendly/liveable communities be planned for now, she said.

Yet how do you motivate policymakers, community leaders and business owners to recognize the importance?

“Most people will want to know what is in it for them and how much it is going to cost,” she said. “You have to show them that investing in age-friendly communities is a good investment.”

She laid out a four-step strategy for building age-friendly communities that is currently being implemented by Boston and Yarmouth, Massachusetts.

Step one, she said, involves collecting data on the community and assessing the community for needs; step two: creating an action plan; step three, implementing the plan; and step four, evaluating the outcomes.

In assessing a community for needs, Mutchler suggested holding listening sessions in each neighborhood to define the unique needs of each neighborhood. Factors that individualize communities include their racial and ethnic makeup, she said; therefore, plans must be framed around these factors.

“In evaluating outcomes,” she said, “assess if your plan has had the impact you were hoping to have. Did anything change? An age-friendly effort is not a one-time thing; it is a culture shift, a new way of thinking. You have to re-do these steps all the time.”

Age-friendly issues will eventually affect all of us. “For the first time in human history, people over 60 will outnumber the young,” noted Nora Moreno Cargie in her opening remarks at this conference. Moreno Cargie is president of Tufts Health Plan Foundation and vice president of Corporate Citizenship at Tufts. She encouraged public agencies, businesses, cultural centers, educational institutions and religious institutions to invest in one of their most vulnerable communities – older adults.

Workshop sessions following the keynote were titled:

  • “Mobilizing the Inclusion of All Elders through Authentic Partnerships,” led by Stephani Shivers, director of community innovations at the Alzheimer’s Resource Center in Connecticut.
  • “The Role of Social Capital in Health: Implications for Environmental Modifications to Promote Healthy Aging,” led by Julie Norstand, adjunct professor at Regis College.
  • “Turning Data into Action,” led by Mia Oberlink, senior research associate at Visiting Nursing Service of New York.
  • “Dementia-Friendly Communities: Lessons from Around the World,” led by Michael Splaine ’81, owner and principal at Splaine Consulting and Cognitive Solutions LLC in Washington, D.C.

According to Rachel Filinson, director of the RIC Gerontology Center, “This conference provided a critical foundation for advancing the work of the Rhode Island Aging in Community Subcommittee, which was launched two years ago in response to the Aging in Community Act of 2014 by the State of Rhode Island (RIGL 42-66.11). The conference will help further efforts underway to develop a strategic plan for promoting age friendliness statewide and build a broad-based coalition to achieve this plan.”

Rhode Island College’s interdisciplinary program in gerontology provides a systematic grounding in the study of aging. Undergraduates who successfully complete the requirements of the program are awarded a minor in gerontology, and graduate students earn a certificate in gerontology.