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Polco News & Knowledge

How Local Governments Can Help Older Adults Age in Place

older adults age in place

Surveying older adults gives organizations insights on how they can support aging in place.  

Our needs change as we age. Mobility might get a bit more challenging, we may have more free time to participate in community activities, or we might need access to better health care. Local governments that prepare for these shifts can help older adults age in place. Aging in place helps older adults themselves, and the community at large, since older people fuel the economy, often volunteer more, and can pass down valuable wisdom.

The Community Assessment Survey for Older Adults® (CASOA®) captures older adults' opinions about quality of life in their community.  CASOA is particularly useful for Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) designated by the state that help older adults live independently. 

Avenidas is a private nonprofit AAA in northern California that plans to conduct CASOA in the nine communities that make up its service area. 

john sink avenidas“We’re asking ourselves how the needs have changed coming out of the pandemic so that we know what sorts of issues we need to take into consideration for program planning going forward,” said John Sink, Avenidas’ Vice President of Enrichment Services. 

Avenidas has been studying the needs of older adults since its inception in the 1950s. The agency’s largest source of municipal funding comes from the City of Palo Alto, where the organization’s headquarters is located. Palo Alto is one of its service areas and has more residents older than 65, which is more than the national average.

“We’re using CASOA to hear from a group we haven’t heard from as much, the 55 to 75-year-old age group, who are often caregivers for their parents. We want to know how to support that segment of the population,” Sink said. 

For caregivers like these, helping their family members age in place requires a variety of services, from grocery delivery to trips to the doctor. Sometimes, the caregiver isn’t able to do all of these things. That’s where Avenidas comes in, providing services in both group settings and individually to families looking for enrichment.

The group is particularly interested in looking at social determinants of health and health-related social issues such as financial strain, food insecurity, loneliness, housing insecurity, housing quality, utility insecurity, and transportation. 

What do people pay for? Where is the most demand? Where are the gaps in needs and services? What does it take to attract a retiring person to a city? These are some of the questions that Avenidas is hoping to answer through CASOA. 

Evolving Needs

The pandemic brought a number of new challenges for organizations working with older adults.

“People are no longer getting their information by word-of-mouth. They’re looking elsewhere, ” Sink said. “So we’re paying more attention to the different channels of communication we use, whether it’s social media or something else.” 

As modes of communication have changed, so have older adults’ wants and desires. 

“A lot of folks in this age group are just fine, health-wise. They are looking to give back, so their major need is involvement and volunteering,” Sink said. “We provide ways for them to do that depending on their interests.” 

Understanding these ever-changing sentiments is a vital role for Avenidas and other organizations. 

“You have to have a relationship with [residents], and it has to be deep enough for you to know what they want,” Sink said, adding that data is a big part of that. “That’s why there’s no substitute for this kind of needs assessment. Anecdotal evidence isn’t enough. A process that has the rigorous methodology that [Polco] brings is so valuable to us because we know we aren’t missing anything or anyone.” 

Preparing for the Future

To meet these challenges and those to come, local governments can partner with community-based organizations, nonprofits, the private sector, and residents themselves. 

Organizations like Avenidas will collaborate with local government leaders and residents on next steps. “Following this needs assessment, we will present the results at a city council meeting,”  Sink said. “We’ll share what we’ve learned and where we’re going from here.” After sharing the results, Avenidas will incorporate this data into program planning efforts as they update the new strategic plan for the organization.

While each organization is different, this process demonstrates an effective use of surveys. The process doesn’t stop once the results are in, and instead requires further outreach. This lays the foundation of effective, long-term community engagement. With help from CASOA, agencies like Avenidas will be better prepared for the future and can create a high quality of life for all ages.    

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