This article appeared in the August 2017 issue of the Georgia's Cities newspaper.
Thirteen percent of Georgia’s population was 65 or older in 2016 and it’s predicated that by 2040 that number will be 18.8 percent, according to a Georgia planner. These statistics are similar to what’s occurring nationwide and around the globe.
“People are living longer and having fewer babies,” said Mary Tonore Blumberg, manager of Strategic Planning and Development Unit, Aging and Independence Service of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “Sixty-five and older is the fastest-growing population.”
It is projected that by 2050 the United States population of persons 65 and older will be 83.7 million, almost double what it was in 2012, according to a U.S. Census report.
Cities across the country are creating amenities, such as these in Augusta, to serve the rapidly growing population of persons 65 and older.
Some community leaders across Georgia are keenly aware of these estimates and how shifting demographics might affect their towns and cities. Some officials are working proactively to accommodate a grayer population with many adaptations and enhancements that will benefit older residents specifically and all community members in general.
Housing, transportation and recreation are three areas that many leaders are focusing on to make their communities more age friendly.
Blumberg said alternative forms of transportation and housing that’s affordable and located near services that seniors can easily reach by walking and taking public transportation are key. She said it’s imperative to be creative and look at different ways to get people around.
“On average people outlive their ability to drive by seven to 10 years,” she said.
While most people want to stay in their homes as they age, having a diversity of housing options also is important, Blumberg said.
Establishing social engagement opportunities that can prevent older people from becoming isolated, which can lead to deteriorating health, is also important.
Blumberg said she’s encouraged by the progress some communities are making in this area.
“I think that our cities and counties and elected officials are starting to recognize it and are dealing with it,” she said.
She cited Augusta, Macon-Bibb and Atlanta as leaders in becoming more age friendly. All three are the only Georgia communities listed as members of AARP’s Network of Age-Friendly Communities, which means they’ve made a “commitment to actively working toward making their town, city or county a great place for people of all ages.” She also applauds the efforts underway in smaller cities such as Norcross, Decatur and Tucker.
“I think we’re still in the beginning stages in most communities,” said Blumberg.
In 2014 Augusta was designated as an age-friendly community by AARP in affiliation with the World Health Organization. In 2015 Augusta leaders produced a 54-page action plan that covers: transportation, outdoor spaces and buildings, housing, social participation and diverse inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community and health services.
William Lockett, a former Augusta commissioner who pushed for the age-friendly designation, said he’s pleased to see his city embracing its older residents.
“Of course I would like to see more done, but significant progress has been made,” said Lockett.
“We’re not just making things better for elderly resident but for all citizens of the community,” he said. “We are tweaking those things government is already tasked to do.”
In the area of transportation, Lockett cited the expansion of the number of Augusta buses equipped for wheelchairs, a MyRide app that indicates when buses will arrive and the addition of 100 bus shelters as items that will benefit all riders including older riders.
He added that another idea that’s extremely close to reality is launching a travel training program that would take older residents and disabled people on bus tours to show them how to use the bus system. The city and county also have embraced support from AARP for a technology education class that taught older residents how to use computers and take advantage of social media apps.
Lockett, a retired educator and federal employee who now serves as the Age Friendly Augusta liaison, said there are two parks that city officials are planning to make friendlier for all its residents, including those 50 and older and those with disabilities.
Romell Cooks, AARP lead volunteer for Age Friendly Augusta, said re-examining a park to determine if it meets the needs of older residents may result in more benches spaced at closer intervals, more shaded areas, additional bathrooms, more water fountains and improved lighting.
“I think we’re doing good but not excellent,” said Cooks. “Sometimes I think we could do more faster.”
Cooks said one of the best things to come out of the broad view approach Augusta has taken on becoming more age friendly is that now leaders and support personnel are thinking of older residents in all their planning.
“It’s become part of the planning process,” said Cooks.