San Mateo County becoming age friendly

As our population rapidly ages, it’s time to take steps to help our older adults live healthy and active lives.

Data indicates that San Mateo County will have 53 percent more adults between the ages of 65 and 74 by the year 2030 than there are today and the 75- to- 84-year-old age group will experience a 71 percent increase by the year 2030, according to the Commission on Aging.

That’s why San Mateo County launched an innovative, forward-looking initiative to support and enable older persons in our communities. This initiative is called Age-Friendly Cities and is based on a global movement endorsed by the United Nations and led by the World Health Organization.

Leadership around community engagement, planning and evidence-based policy making is required to anticipate and organize community resources so that older people can age with dignity and enjoy an enhanced quality of life.

Most older people wish to age in their communities and within their homes but, with age-related changes, our worlds can become more difficult and problematic. The idea of Age-Friendly Cities is to be intentional and informed about the needs of our older citizens and look at our communities through the lens of an older adult or a person with disabilities.

Indeed, Age-Friendly Cities make life easier for persons of all ages, so they are actually intergenerational. For example, curb cuts make walking and crossing the streets easier for older persons and mothers with a baby carriage.

The World Health Organization released a policy framework on Active Aging in 2002 that is grounded in the principles of “… independence, participation, dignity, care and self-fulfillment … .” This is a holistic approach and takes into consideration the biological, psychological, behavioral, economic, social and environmental factors that affect a person over their lifetime and determines health and well-being as they age.

There are eight domains of an Age-Friendly City that focus on the physical and social environment of a community. By measuring these and identifying gaps and needs, policy makers can make informed, efficient and targeted decisions and policies for programs and services.

In San Mateo County, we have taken action and officially started an Age-Friendly Cities project with three pilot cities that include Redwood City, Pacifica and Daly City.

The county has contracted with the Center for Age-Friendly Excellence (CAFE), a program of the Los Altos Community Foundation, to guide this effort. CAFE previously provided similar technical assistance to the cities of Santa Clara County, and the county itself, to help them go through the process of being certified to join the World Health Organization network of Age-Friendly Cites.

CAFE has a dedicated and experienced team of experts in the field of aging and community organizing. CAFE is working closely with, and being guided by, a group of community leaders and staff from the San Mateo County Department of Aging and Adult Services and the office of Supervisor Canepa.

To date, CAFE has reached out to community leaders in Redwood City, Pacifica and Daly City and organized three local task forces to inform, guide and promote the process. These task forces are now in place. Diverse and inclusive focus groups have been conducted in Redwood City and focus groups are now scheduled for Pacifica. Meetings with the Daly City task force have just gotten underway. Redwood City is expected to submit its application to WHO to be designated Age-Friendly in the coming months and the mayors of all three pilot cities support this effort.

CAFE utilizes a model of community organizing to work with local residents to gather information on unmet needs in each domain via a variety of focus groups; these focus group reports are shared with each city task force. Next, CAFE explores options with each task force and makes community-specific recommendations for targeted programs and services. Finally, CAFE assists each city task force to apply for an Age-Friendly certification.

The county believes that this project will lead to the creation of cities that respect the diversity of the aging experience and lifestyle choices, promote inclusion of all older persons in community life and anticipate and respond to aging-related needs and preferences of older people and their loved ones.

David J. Canepa serves on the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors and Anabel Pelham is the founding director of the Center for Age-Friendly Excellence in Los Altos, president of the National Association of Professional Gerontologists and a professor at San Francisco State University.