Age-friendly Cities

Oct 10, 2013, 2:57 PM

“What aging is, is the greatest success of public health,” said Ruth Finkelstein, director of the Age-Friendly Initiative of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The City of New York has released a progress report on Age-friendly New York City, a cross-agency, public-private partnership created in 2009 to improve the lives of older New Yorkers. The report highlights progress in several areas including pedestrian safety, parks access and innovative senior centers among others initiatives. New York City is home to 1.3 million older New Yorkers, a number expected to increase by close to 50 percent by 2030. In 2007, the City Council provided funding to the New York Academy of Medicine to begin creating a blueprint to help New York City become a model of an age-friendly city.

The report’s release coincides with the city’s announcement of its recognition as the Best Existing Age-friendly Initiative in the World through a competition sponsored by the International Federation on Aging.

 “It’s a fact of life that everyone gets older and we need to make sure our City is prepared to meet the needs of our aging population,” said Department for the Aging Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. “Our success is due to the collaborative efforts of our sister City agencies, the New York City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine. Without this uniquely innovative partnership and the grassroots community efforts from local businesses and neighborhood organizations, we would not have been able to build the foundation for what makes New York City a better place to live for our seniors.”

The city’s age-friendly initiatives include:  

Innovative Senior Centers: Throughout 2012 and 2013, the City transformed 10 senior centers into what the City is calling Innovative Senior Centers. These centers provide enhanced programming, including robust wellness programs, additional access to health care services, arts and cultural programs, and new technological and volunteer opportunities. The centers work with members to obtain baseline health information upon enrollment and will measure critical health outcomes over time.

Support of Naturally Occurring Retirement Communities: A Naturally Occurring Retirement Community is comprised of a mixture of privately- and publicly-owned housing, where older residents are a substantial proportion of the households as a result of their aging-in-place. With $5.6 million in funding, the City provides inter-disciplinary programs to the 28 such communities in NYC. These programs include transportation and shopping services, social activities, connections to community and government resources, health promotion activities, and assistance with health care management.

Accessible Dispatch: After a two-year pilot program, the City's Taxi and Limousine Commission launched "Accessible Dispatch" in September 2012. Accessible Dispatch offers on-demand wheelchair-accessible taxi service, and compensates drivers for their travel to a pickup location, so passengers pay only the metered taxi fare once their trip begins. All drivers of wheelchair-accessible taxicabs are required to participate in the Accessible Dispatch program, which has completed over 18,000 trips since its launch.

Safe Streets for Seniors: Through its Safe Streets for Seniors initiative, the Department of Transportation (DOT) is implementing safety improvements in 25 areas identified as having an above-average rate of senior pedestrian fatalities and injuries. Typical improvements include: extending pedestrian crossing times at crosswalks, adding countdown clocks, altering curbs and sidewalks, restricting vehicle turns, and narrowing roadways. As of May 2013, DOT had finished implementing improvements in 17 of the 25 areas. Since the program began, senior pedestrian fatalities have decreased 21 percent citywide.

Fall Prevention: The NYC Falls Prevention Coalition focuses on advertising solutions to preventing falls among older adults. It includes partners from various sectors, including health care, social services, academia, advocacy, and the government. The Coalition has developed falls prevention web pages, promoted falls prevention education and programming, completed a falls survey among senior center participants, and developed a brief home safety checklist to help people who visit seniors in their homes find and fix fall hazards.

Silver Alert: A partnership between the City’s Department for the Aging, the New York City Police Department, and the City Council helped create legislation for Silver Alert, a public notification system that aids police in the search for missing older persons with dementia. When a senior with a cognitive impairment, such as Alzheimer’s, is reported missing and deemed to be in imminent danger of physical injury or death, NYPD initiates a protocol through which a wide audience (including media outlets, community organizations, and senior service providers) is notified, allowing the public to assist the NYPD in searching for the missing senior. As of August 2013, there had been 135 Missing Senior Alerts and 107 Silver Alerts (since the programs launched in 2010 and 2011, respectively).

Market Ride: Market Ride uses school buses during off hours to take seniors from senior centers to supermarkets and farmers’ markets that have a greater array of fruits and vegetables than smaller, neighborhood stores. School buses are also used to take senior center members to recreational facilities, museums, Broadway shows, and a host of other venues. Market Ride began as a pilot program in Brooklyn in the 2008-2009 school year and is now available to senior centers in all five boroughs. Since October 2012, 52 trips have allowed 1,333 seniors to participate in this service.

Success Mentor Initiative: The Success Mentor initiative connects mentors to students who are chronically absent in an effort to improve attendance. In 2011-2012, the program recruited 10 older adults to serve as Success Mentors in 4 schools, where each mentor was matched with 15-20 mentees. At the end of the 2011-2012 school year, the percentage of chronically absent students declined on average by 50 percent. In 2012-2013, the number of mentors increased to 24 seniors placed in 7 schools.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.