Towns across Maine are becoming aware of a new phenomenon – their towns are getting older. Forward-thinking towns such as Bethel, Litchfield, Rangeley, and Harpswell are joining a growing movement of towns becoming “Age Friendly.”
What does that mean? Why is it important? It’s a critical look at how easy or difficult it is for older adults (and those with disabilities of all ages) to remain in their own homes in their town and remain connected and involved in community life. Once the critical assessment of the town has happened, a community comes together to make changes that make life in Smalltown Maine better for everyone, This can include changes such as: looking at zoning to make sure smaller or shared housing is available close to downtown, establishing a Friendly Caller program to check on those who are homebound, recognizing the great wealth of talent available with retirees, and creating opportunities for volunteers to improve community by doing such things as help each other with home repairs, tutor children, or provide transportation to people who can’t drive.
SeniorsPlus has just received a Maine Health Access Foundation Thriving in Place grant, to work toward Age Friendliness with the towns of Rangeley and Farmington. Bethel has used an AARP community assessment tool, and is working with the local library to increase technology assistance for older adults, for example. Rangeley has already created a working group (HELP: Helping Elders Live in Place) and they have a Friendly Caller program in place and are close to opening a social Adult Day Program to give caregivers a break.
Times, they are a changing. Forward looking towns are understanding the need to look at their population and find ways to keep their community members well, healthy and connected. For a great tool to get you and your community started on the conversation about becoming Age Friendly, check out AARP’s Age Friendly Toolkit: www.aarp.org/livable-communities.