“When you improve a community for seniors, it results in a community that’s better for everyone,” said Jessica Blewett to Houston council last Tuesday.
Blewett is the Principal Consultant for Western Canada Accessibility and Enablement Consulting and in the middle stages of developing an Age-Friendly Plan for Houston.
She said improving age-friendliness benefits all people, providing intergenerational programs and improving infrastructure, which helps parents with strollers or people with disabilities as well as seniors.
Blewett presented to council the findings of an age-friendly survey, which will be the basis for the Age-Friendly Plan to be finished in September.
The survey represented 67 households and 120 people, with 55 percent over the age of 65.
It covered transportation, housing, health and social engagement.
“Most people walk and drive in Houston now… but over the next ten years the people who see themselves driving falls from 58 households to 34,” Blewett said.
Survey respondents listed a variety of other transportation services they wanted, with most (42 people) wanting a reliable taxi service.
There were 27 who wanted transportation to local medical appointments, and 25 to regional appointments. Public transit was desired by 22 people and 17 wanted accessible door-to-door pick up service.
Roadways was another issue, which Blewett said is integral for an age-friendly community.
Only 26 percent of respondents feel that roads are well maintained, but walking areas got a much better grade, with 46 percent saying walkways were in good shape.
“That’s something to consider over the long term,” Blewett said.
Blewett said respondents “feel pretty safe” in Houston, with 95 percent saying they felt safe walking in the day.
As far as access to businesses, Blewett said 91 percent said felt they could access the Houston businesses.
Only 12 percent of those surveyed planned to leave Houston to retire, Blewett said, adding that there are concerns about housing for those people.
“Only 21 percent of respondents said they didn’t have stairs in their homes,” Blewett said, adding that stairs, large homes and repair needs are often issues for people as they age.
The survey looked at what type of housing people would want into the future, and in ten years those not looking for housing dropped significantly.
Blewett said that right now ten people are looking for seniors housing, in five years 16 people expect to need seniors housing, and in ten years 28 people.
Most people want seniors independent living units, but in ten years there’s desire for all types of seniors housing, especially seniors independent living, subsidized supportive housing, assisted living, and complex care.
Most seniors who did the survey claimed to have good or very good health, but Blewett said 38 percent had at least one person in their household with a mobility challenge.
“Support networks in Houston are excellent,” Blewett said, adding that 86 percent of respondants said they have family or friends to count on in times of need.
“The main area of concern here is the perception of health care,” she said
As far as health services, the survey found that 59 percent of respondents didn’t feel that the health services here are sufficient for their needs.
Blewett said figuring out how to slowly build on the existing health services will be important for the future.
The top four health services respondents wanted for Houston were home care, optometrist services, nursing care and visiting services for isolated individuals.
For community services, respondents said their top needs were winter yard work, delivery of goods and groceries, house cleaning and summer yard work.
When seniors were asked what social activities are important for them, most listed coffee and tea socials, games events, live music nights, luncheons, and art classes.
“The good thing here is that a lot of these are already available in some capacity in Houston, so it’s just a matter of maintaining these,” said Blewett.
The top four sports activities seniors wanted in Houston were seniors indoor and outdoor walking programs, gentle yoga and seniors hiking.
For education programs, seniors wanted computer courses, healthy living seminars, internet search courses, dementia care information and cooking classes.
Blewett said one issue here was that many people didn’t know what was offered in Houston, so better communication could be something to consider for the future.
Summing up the findings of the survey and not denying that there are some “big ticket items,” Blewett said Houston is quite age-friendly comparative to a lot of places.
As far as improvements, “sometimes the things that make a really big difference are the little things, from having new sources of information to having programs where seniors and youth get together,” she said.
“Focusing on age-friendliness can be a really good community resilience strategy,” she added, noting that resource-based towns rely on benefits of retaining seniors to make it through the economic cycles.
The Age-Friendly Plan for Houston will be finished in September, including specific recommendations and strategies for moving forward.