We all know that the baby boomer generation is getting older. As the baby boomers enter into their sixties and seventies, our population will experience a significant age shift. In fact, the number of residents over age 65 will double over the next 20 years, and community members over the age of 80 will be increasing at an even faster rate. But what happens when Grandma and Grandpa can no longer drive, or even live on their own?
Aging used to be a primarily family issue, but with some baby boomers without children, and others with children living far away, the issue of an aging population in Kansas City lies on the community itself.
But it's not just happening here. Across the nation, communities see the importance of keeping their elderly population engaged and creating a generationally diverse community. Unfortunately, many of the elderly who lose their ability to drive or live alone suffer from depression and feel disconnected from the community. However, creating city ride programs, more easily accessible sidewalks and paths, and community living environments can help an area keep its aging neighbors active and engaged.
Some Kansas City communities are getting a clue. Shawnee has developed a city ride program using taxis in which adults older than 62 can buy discounted tickets to go anywhere in the community. Some small towns are also attracting the elderly, as they have access to medical services, well-developed sidewalks and small size, and inexpensive housing.
Marlene Nagel from MARC (Mid-America Regional Council) says 89% of seniors want to remain in their own homes or in independent living situations. Many community living areas are appealing to those reaching retirement. Jim Courtney from MARC calls community living, "people coming together and helping people." Shared housing allows seniors to stay engaged in the community and also be able to interact with all ages.
Nagel affirms that what is good for the elderly, (i.e. good sidewalks, good public transit) is good for everyone. Not only are these aspects of infrastructure good for all, but seniors who seek senior-friendly homes can then offer their homes for young families to buy and live in.
Essentially, with a doubling senior population, Kansas City cannot wait to adapt itself to a changing demographic. It's about how we look at our communities, how we look at what people need, and how we create access to services for those people.
- Jim Courtney, Executive Director at Mr. Goodcents Foundation and Chair of Special Transportation Committee at MARC
- Marlene Nagel, Community Development Director at MARC