One of the unfortunate consequences of the response to coronavirus has been the necessary sheltering of much of the older population. In the most extreme situations, this has kept friends and families from their loved ones even as they fought the impacts of the virus in a hospital room. Even in the best of times, many older Americans find themselves isolated, and battling loneliness and inactivity. Recent studies by the National Institute of Health, the CDC, and others highlight the risk of social isolation for aging Americans and the impact it can have on their health and well-being. A few years ago, a group in Roanoke led by the Local Office on Aging (LOA), then Council Member David Trinkle, the local chapter of the AARP, Virginia Tech, and others—a total of 25 partner agencies—set about to better the circumstances for the older residents of our community. This culminated in Roanoke being named Virginia’s fifth Age-Friendly Community, as promulgated nationally by AARP. This week is recognized nationally as Active Aging Week, and seems an appropriate opportunity to discuss the efforts of the LOA and City a bit further.
It is projected that in the next 10 years, one in four residents in Roanoke will be age 65 or older. As we approach 2030, the population age 65 and over will outnumber those under 18 for the first time in the Nation’s history. An age-friendly community is a livable community with:
- Policies, services, and public infrastructure that promote the health, well-being, and quality of life of older residents;
- Respect for the needs, opinions, and perspectives of older residents regardless of age, race, income, or health needs;
- Safe, affordable, and accessible access to housing, transportation, and public spaces; and
- Opportunities to build social relationships, volunteer, and engage in civic activities.
These actions help older residents live healthier, more active, and longer lives. At the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019, Age-Friendly Roanoke conducted a citywide survey of residents age 45 to assess if the City was a good place to live and grow old, and to identify specific issues the City and local organizations needed to work on to ensure Roanoke remains age-friendly. The results of this survey were presented to the City Council and served as the foundation for a plan of action going forward. Most surveyed (83%) considered Roanoke a good place to live and grow old. Challenges noted in the survey include transportation, sidewalks, and ability to affect change that benefits older residents.
The Action Plan
So, how exactly is it proposed that Roanoke maintain an age-friendly perspective? What actions are necessary and who will undertake them? To answer these questions and others, the group undertook development of an action plan, which was presented to the City Council at their meeting Oct. 5. The Age-Friendly Roanoke’s Action Plan 2021-2023 was developed using four key resources:
- AARP 8 Domains of Livability
- Age-Friendly Roanoke 2019 Neighborhood Survey findings
- City of Roanoke City Plan 2040
- The expertise and experiences of Age-Friendly Roanoke stakeholder and partner organizations
The Action Plan recommends a series of actions designed to advance on its three goals:
- Expand Understanding and Raise Awareness of Need
- Build Community Capacity to Respond
- Build Sustainable Relationships and Interventions
The plan provides a solid blueprint for the community’s efforts at advancing on its vision—that Roanoke continue to be a great place to age, and to remain active and healthy.
-- Bob Cowell