This article was also published in Area 97, a special publication from the Bend Bulletin.
In early 2019, the Council on Aging of Central Oregon hosted community forums across the tri-county area, inviting more than 100 older adults and community professionals to discuss the challenges faced by older adults in Central Oregon. In these forums, community members identified the major issues challenging us as we age, and discussed “out-of-the-box” ideas to ease the burden on older adults.
What are the Major Issues for Central Oregon’s Older Adults?
- Inadequate options for door-to-door transportation
- Lack of affordable and mobility appropriate housing
- Difficulty accessing information and support services
- Diminished health and wellbeing as a result of isolation
Connecting the Dots
Solutions may lie in re-thinking current technological trends, gadgets or processes to make them applicable to older adults. Or in connecting the dots between multiple generations, and community resources and needs. Here are some of the ways Central Oregon is tackling these common issues.
Bringing the Older Adult Experience to the Fore
As Central Oregon cities adapt to changing demographics and adopt infrastructure changes, service providers are listening to older adults and the problems that make daily life a struggle. The Council on Aging partnered with OSU Cascades Mobility Lab and its micropilot program ‘Ride Bend’ this summer to run a test route for older adults to see how they responded to shared, on-demand rides. The response from the participants was positive, as this ride share option was seen as more flexible than Dial-a-Ride (which has a 24-hour reservation requirement) and participants using a walker and a wheelchair were easily accommodated with an ADA accessible van. The trip highlighted a few features required to make such a service successful. For example, ‘Ride Bend’ uses a smartphone app for ride requests, which will require educating older adults on how to install and use the system, while many will still prefer the phone number option. The service area would need to expand to cover more of Bend, and vehicles will need plenty of grab handles for riders.
Partnering for Prevention
The Sisters-Camp Sherman Fire District recognized that the leading cause of calls for urgent medical assistance from adults over the age of 60 was due to suffering falls in the home. In response, the fire department launched its Home Safety Program offering free home inspections for fall and fire risks. The safety checks identify common issues such as poorly placed rugs, slippery surfaces, the need for f grab bars or improved lighting, and the installation of safety items like fire alarms. The department refers residents to local organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and Central Oregon Veterans Outreach to implement mobility and safety improvement repairs and additions. The Bend Fire Department has a similar program called Safety Outreach for Seniors. Home inspections can be requested by contacting the fire department.
Connecting with the Community Online
Facebook and other online social networks are increasingly becoming a tool for older adults to connect with family and friends, and find local hobbies, groups, and community resources. Around 40 percent of adults over the age of 65 now use Facebook–up from only 16 percent in 2012 (Pew Research Center, 2019). Groups such as “PAY IT FORWARD BEND” and “PAY IT FORWARD REDMOND OR” are being used to share needs and get help from locals willing to support their neighbors. In La Pine, participants in the Council on Aging’s community forums suggested a similar concept, but specifically for older adults–a ‘seniors helping seniors’ Facebook group, where needs could be expressed and met, from finding snow removal support to getting a ride to a doctor’s appointment. The Council on Aging also shares resources and information for older adults and their loved ones on our Facebook page: Facebook.com/CouncilOnAgingOfCentralOregon.
Finding Opportunities for Intergenerational Support
Thelma’s Place in Redmond offers an intergenerational day care program that connects preschool children with older adults. According to the program website, “Something magical happens every day…when the young and the old spend time together.” Creating intergenerational shared spaces and programs can benefit young and old alike by addressing loneliness and isolation for older adults and providing support and guidance to children and youth. Generations United, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving lives through intergenerational connection, calls it the “best of both worlds” when “children and older adults become a part of each other’s daily lives, and hearts and minds are opened.” (The Best of Both Worlds: A Closer Look at Creating Spaces that Connect Young and Old, June 2019)
If you or a loved one over the age of 60 need support with any issues related to growing older, call the Council on Aging of Central Oregon at (541) 678-5483. Our Information and Resource Specialists provide free guidance on aging related issues for older adults in Central Oregon.