Top down thinkers imagine that they know best how to give elders all that they might want. Others view older people as pathetic and out of touch. We maintain that older people can, and should have a say in their living circumstances througout life.
There's no reason to not treat older people with the same respect that we want for ourselves, even if they have dimminshed memory, awareness, or discernment.
Too often people think that government should handle social problems while business should pursue profit. That is changing.
Business can act more quickly and often more effectively. It's shameful for a business that draws its livelihood from the community not to uphold the norms and ideals of the community.
We believe that businesses that want older people as customers should make reasonable accomodation to meet their needs.
For many who are now in their elder years, losing a driver's license is a devastating setback. It is remembered as the pivotal ritual of adolescent, signaling the end of the childhood and the advent of adulthood. Now, at the other end of life's spectrum, it can symbolize the reverse, the loss of function and a reversion to childlike dependency. That requires senstivity among all -- family, friends, and assistants -- to overcome the sense of loss and to subsitute other adult pursuits in its place.
On a more practical level, technology is increasingly meeting transportation needs. The advent of ridesharing services has already made those who can no longer drive less dependent on others for their needs. That new independence promises to be strengthened over the next decade as autonomous transportation becomes mainstream.
American healthcare for the elderly is called Medicare, but it hasn't done the job. The biggest deficiency is a very minimal coverage provided for long term care and supportive services. Many people as they grow frail with age need chronic support services but Medicare doesn't cover that.
The fallback is Medicaid, which is a Federal government program for the indigent. To qualify for the coverage they need, the elderly are forced by an unfeeling government to spend down their resources into poverty. For people proud of their self-sufficiency, that is a blow to their self-esteem from which many never recover.
Depression and suicide are not uncommon. This system which thus gives the appearance of caring for the elderly but which demeans them late in life when they most need affirmation is one of the least Age Friendly healthcare systems in the world.
We need to reform our healthcare system to make it equitable; to recognize that the elderly need more healthcare than other age groups; and to restore self-esteem and dignity to those who are most vulnerable in their fraility as they near life's end.
No age group is as subject to financial scams and financial exploitation as are the very old. It's a sad accompaniment to very advanced age that discernment often lags and diminishes leaving the very old highly susceptible to confidence ploys.
Some ploys are criminal; some are merely illegal; and some are countenanced by questionable legal authorizations and ethical rationalizations. One purpose that ActionAging.com has in pressing for an Age Friendly America is to make it safe for people to age secure in their wealth and welfare.
Falls lead to crisis as one grows frail with age. Thus, anything that can reduce the hazards that bring on such falls is Age Friendly. This can begin with something as simple as encouraging cities to focus on the elimination of tripping hazards in and around neighborhoods which have a larger concentration of elderly.
There are many causes for such falls, so it is a challenge to prevent them altogether, but as we become more Age Friendly we will devise technologies to make collapse less problematic and public areas designed to accomodate the physical needs of the frail elderly.
The Americans with Disabilities Act sets forth a principle that all people should be accomodated in all activities, including work and civic participation, to the extent that a reasonable accomodation can be made to allow them to be full citizens. That is the same standard that needs to be applied for the frail or impaired elderly. Giving the Americans with Disabilities Act full force and enforcement for the elderly as for younger people will disabilities is at the heart of creating an Age Friendly America.
Let's start with building codes. Building codes tend to define both a maximum and a minimum. The process starts with governments proposing minimum standards for, say, safe housing., The developers then push back, arguing that the proposed standards are onerous. The politicians try to find the middle ground with the result that standards tend to be very minimal.
Still, when the developer then goes to develop a building project, those minimal standards become the maximum because anything more than that reduces the developer's return on invested capital (unless it can command a premium price and that is appearance more than safety or accomodation).
The result is that there is a dearth of affordable housing stock for those who need the supports -- even as simple as grab bars -- that can benefit the elderly, and that, truth to tell, are of benefit to people of all ages. Who doesn't want to live in a fire safe dwelling? By making Age Friendly Development central all building undertakings, we can lift the productive capacity or our society and advance our housing for the next generation much as the installation of flooring advanced the housing of generations who no longer have to live with dirt floors.
Every generation stands on the shoulders of the values and standards of the generation preceding it. Let's make the next generation the Age Friendly generation.
Loneliness is a major challenge for those who aging. Younger elders have many opportunities, community centers, senior centers, clubs, common rooms and more. But with advancing age people are less likely to venture far from their homes. This is particularly true for married couples after one spouse dies leaving the other spouse alone, bereft, often depressed, and feeling that life no longer has meaning.
The antidote to such lonely depression is friendship, and those friendships are most sensitive if they are with older people close in age -- many of whom have themselves experienced loss -- and who can help a depressed person find new meaning in life and fulfillment as a member of a familial-like community of friends. Opportunities for such socialization, particularly for those who are frail, mobility challenged, or bewildered is a key element for an Age Friendly America.
The virtual senior center in New York City is a promising technology though volunteer visits and the warmth of human contact is more likely to succeed.
Civic partcipation is equally important. This involves not only engagng in the national, state, regional, county, and municipal policy discussions but it also involves having a voice in the home where the older person lives. For those elderly who own their homes, that is not generally a problem. It becomes more of a problem for those who choose senior housing. If the senior housing owners have all the decision authority, older residents can come to think of themselves as disenfranchised second class citizens.
Many elderly voluntarily adapt to this loss of status, believing themselves that they are no longer as cogent, cognitive, or discerning as are younger people. It's not uncommon to hear the elderly say, "My son [or my daughter] takes care of all that." Such a declaration of dependence can be a physical or mental necessity or it can reflect a depressive loss of self-confidence and self-esteem.
An Age Friendly environment gives
Increasingly, it's recognized that enhanced health and vitality throughout life, due to medical and health advances, means that older people can make good workers for the benefit of employers and themselves. Moreover, an increasing number of older people wish to continue working either as a way to feel useful or to maintain a standard of living in challenging economic times.
For employers to gain the added value that employing such people can bring to their businesses, it's desirable that employment be adapted to the needs and expectations of this demographic group. Of course, such adaptability can benefit workers of all ages, but it's more important for older workers. For instance, many older workers prefer part-time work to full-time schedules. This means that businesses with time variable demand can bring in part-time assistance to meet peak service needs.
Other adaptations relate to the various physical challenges that come with aging -- hearing loss, vision loss, slower mobility, less physical flexibility, etc. These challenges can be met by the standard of "reasonable accomodation" which is included in the Americans with Disabilities Acts. For instance, an employee with impaired hearing would not do well in direct contact with walk-in customers but might be gifted at web development. In some cases, inhibited productivity may have to be balanced with commensurate compensation. The concept of "reasonable accomodation" requires imagination on the part of employers but the results for the business, for the customers, and for the public are immense.
Thus, reasonable accomodation for the elderly is central to all aspects of creating an Age Friendly America.