As the US population ages, Seattle assesses its ability to evolve

A feature in the Seattle Times takes stock of how well – and how poorly – the city is adjusting to the realities of an aging population, and the efforts of an advocacy organization to improve it

If it hasn’t become clear already, the U.S. population is aging at an accelerated rate when compared with prior generations. For some communities, that has required a re-assessment of the goods, services and abilities they maintain designed to serve older populations, and the city of Seattle is taking its own stock of its capacity according to a new article in the Seattle Times.

“In 2020, people 65 years and older in the U.S. reached 55.8 million, nearly 17% of the population, according to the 2020 U.S. census,” the article reads. “That is up from 13% in 2010, making it the fastest growth rate in any decade in more than 100 years. In Seattle, older adults make up about 12% of the population — around 88,442 people out of over 737,000 residents — up from about 11% in 2010.”

Local advocates for senior services find the new data adds new urgency to their work, and are using eight inter-connected subject matter areas as designed by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a potential guide toward reshaping certain services to better accommodate aging people.

These include transportation, housing, outdoor spaces, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, community and health services, and communication and information.

An initiative called “Age-Friendly Seattle” is leading the charge to try and prepare the city for the rise in its older population, aiming to link “programs, organizations and efforts to support older adults in their communities,” the Times said.

“There are so many issues that go into creating an age-friendly city, I think it can be hard to find a starting point and avoid feeling overwhelmed,” said Dinah Stephens, Age-Friendly Seattle’s program manager to the Times.

Some of the WHO-designated subject areas are very broad, “housing” being chief among them. That can lead to the feeling of being overwhelmed, but Stephens instead says that the tasks she and her organization are taking on are exciting as opposed to overwhelming.

In terms of the overarching goals, Stephens details the ideal neighborhood: walkable access to all the necessary services someone might need including healthcare, food, work, friends, social activities and banking. Streets are all well-lit at night with paths that are well-paved and textured to avoid slippage.

“There are communal spaces for social engagement,” Stephens said to the Times. “Intergenerational teams are created and work environments where older adults can continue to contribute their skills and expertise. Younger folks can benefit from that mentorship and learning.”

While AARP rankings peg Seattle as a generally senior-friendly city, there is still room for improvement. On a scale derived from similar attributes to the WHO subject areas, Seattle scores 60 out of 100, above the national average of 50.

“Seattle is by no means perfect,” Stephens explained. “But we are doing above average when compared to other cities in most areas. I think housing might be the exception. But across the city needs really vary for older adults.”

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