Thirty-eight people attended the virtual kick-off event for Amherst becoming an Age and Dementia Friendly community on Thursday (1/20).. This was the beginning of what will be a year-long project to assess the needs of the town’s older residents and to develop an action plan to address them.
Becky Basch of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has worked with several area communities to develop such plans, including Hadley, Belchertown, and Granby. Maureen Pollock of the Planning Department is leading the local effort.
Basch noted that in 2035, older adults in the U.S. will outnumber children under age 18. There are an estimated 5,000 Amherst residents over the age of 55. According to Council on Aging information, 30% live alone. This project is to determine if there are any barriers that prevent seniors from participating fully in the community. Being age friendly means a community is a great place to live and grow old. Being dementia friendly means meeting the needs of those with dementia and their families, and treating them with respect.
This project will involve community engagement through a survey of older adults, focus groups, listening sessions, and individual interviews. A working group meeting on January 27 at 1 p.m. over Zoom will finalize the survey, which will be sent to about 500 households of those over age 55 in February. The survey will also be distributed at other locations such as the Senior Center, Craig’s Doors, and senior housing, and will be available on the town’s website. Other organizations and church groups will be enlisted to reach a wide representation of the senior population. The need for the survey to be translated into other languages was also acknowledged.
The survey will collect data on health, housing, support, transportation, and communication needs, as well as programs that would be helpful to older adults. After compiling this data, the town will develop an action plan to meet these needs to submit to the AARP and Dementia Friendly Massachusetts https://dfmassachusetts.org/ . Several area towns have already submitted these plans, and Basch said that it may be reasonable to present a regional plan in the future. Being certified as an Age and Dementia Friendly community will make Amherst eligible for grants to meet its goals. Locally, John Hornik, chair of the Amherst Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, is leading the survey initiative.
In the discussion that followed Basch’s presentation, attendees raised the need for accessible sidewalks and transportation, readable signage, accommodations for those with mobility and vision and hearing problems, and programs to adapt housing. Susan Lowery noted that Amherst Neighbors held a presentation on the Home Modification Loan program https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fsTn8qwobqI , which allows seniors to obtain a loan that does not need to be paid back until the home is sold in order to make alterations that allow them to age in place.
Basch noted that some towns have established memory cafes, support services for caregivers, and “purple table” programs where restaurants set aside off-hour times for those with dementia to be able to dine in a quieter environment. She also said that libraries can distribute memory toolkits to help older adults access resources.
The new director of the Senior Center, Hayley Bolton, said she views one of the goals of the center as helping seniors age in place. She hopes to reach more of the older population, including those who don’t have access to the internet, and to expand the programs the center offers.
Those who would like to be involved with this initiative should contact Maureen Pollock at email@example.com .