News Feature

Blue Hill
Originally published in Castine Patriot, November 22, 2018 and Island Ad-Vantages, November 22, 2018 and The Weekly Packet, November 22, 2018
Community survey results highlight ‘age-friendly’ needs

Discussion

Deer Isle Town Manager Jim Fisher chats with Bruce Matters of Coastal Caretakers at an Age-Friendly Coastal Communities meeting November 5 in Blue Hill.

Photo by Anne Berleant Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Anne Berleant

What makes a community age-friendly?

Healthy Peninsula and Healthy Island Project conducted an Age-Friendly Coastal Communities survey in the seven peninsula and two island towns to help communities better understand the needs, wants, and preferences of older residents. The goal is to make communities “friendly” to residents of all ages, with the emphasis on older ones.

The average age of the 765 survey respondents was 67.

“Age does not define us,” said Patricia Oh, an AARP Age-Friendly Consultant, who discussed the survey results report November 5 at Bagaduce Music Lending Library in front of a varied group of town selectmen, volunteers, and members of partner organizations.

One thousand surveys were mailed to a random selection of homes across the nine towns, hard copies were available at town offices and libraries, and an electronic survey was advertised through email lists, agencies and the media.

Key results included that about half of respondents were retired, 42 percent have lived in the area over 20 years, 90 percent want to remain in the community and 82 percent want to age in their own homes. Despite the desire to stay local, 83 percent said changes are needed to make the region an “ideal place to age,” according to the report.

Voluntarism was high at 56 percent, compared to the national average of 25 percent. But 29 percent of respondents reported social isolation and 46 percent said they did not feel respected and included in their communities.

Most of the respondents defined community as the entire region, not the town they lived in, with the exception of Castine, where 80 percent viewed the town as their community.

So, what makes a community ideal?

“It’s a place where everybody has what they need to be as active in the community as they want to be,” said Oh.

Medical services, recreation, transportation, opportunities for community involvement, and disaster preparedness all are important. As vital are social connections, Oh said, that can be as simple as chatting to the TradeWinds cashier.

Healthy Peninsula Healthy Aging Program Coordinator Anne Schroth then introduced Jo Cooper of Friends in Action, which arranges transportation among a volunteer corps, Stonington Town Manager Kathleen Billings, who has steadily worked for livability improvements such as better sidewalks, and Blue Hill Heritage Trust Associate Director George Fields, who discussed the age-friendly walking path under construction in Blue Hill, funded in part by a matching AARP grant.

“We have a deep group of willing volunteers and organizations,” Schroth said. “We have a promising opportunity to come up with a two-to-three-year plan on specific targeted ideas raised by the data.”