A global shift has occurred. We are living longer — often healthier — lives. This exciting change creates both opportunities and new challenges.

One response to this change has been the development of Age Friendly and Dementia Friendly movements throughout the U.S. and the world. These initiatives work to encourage communities to recognize older adults and those with dementia as valued members of the community and assist people of all ages and abilities to actively participate in all aspects of their community. Movements to make communities more age and dementia friendly benefit all and improve the quality of life for every resident, regardless of age.

Currently, about 32% of Cape Ann residents are age 60 and older, including 6% who are age 80 and older. Projections suggest that in the coming decades, the older population of Cape Ann will continue to grow, with as many as 18,000 seniors living in the region by 2030. Substantial growth in the older populations is expected in each of the four Cape Ann communities.

Motivated in part by the increase in the number of older residents living on Cape Ann, the Age & Dementia Friendly Cape Ann initiative officially launched its action plan at the Aging Together Community Summit last month. This event brought together community and business leaders and citizens interested in making Cape Ann a better place for people of all ages and abilities. 

A process that took more than two years preceded the summit. Beginning in 2016, organizers of the initiative began researching both Age Friendly and Dementia Friendly movements. In addition, the organizers met with city and town officials in the region and state legislators to garner municipal and state support for such an initiative on Cape Ann.

Once the basic groundwork was in place, the ADFCA community needs assessment began with the assistance of the Center for Social & Demographic Research on Aging, part of the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Community forums were held in the four communities of Cape Ann, surveys were distributed, key informant interviews were conducted, and several focus groups met. In total, 600 people from throughout Cape Ann provided input into what an Age and Dementia Friendly community might look like for our region.

The resulting report, “Age & Dementia Friendly Cape Ann: A regional needs assessment,” was produced by the Gerontology Institute in late 2018. Based on the findings in the report, an ADFCA Steering Committee was convened and an action plan was created.

The work of ADFCA is built on 10 areas of focus, including housing, transportation, outdoor spaces and buildings, respect and social inclusion, communication and information, community and business supports, social participation, civic participation and employment, healthcare and continuum of care, and legal and advanced planning. This action plan was presented at the Aging Together Community Summit on May 1.

In next few weeks’ Senior Lookout columns, I will review some of the major themes reported in the needs assessment and the resulting steps to be taken outlined in the action plan.

For more information about the Age & Dementia Friendly Cape Ann initiative, visit adfca.org. If you are interested in joining in this effort, contact initiative coordinator Carrie Johnson at 978-281-1750.

The ADFCA community needs assessment was funded by a grant from the North Shore Community Health Network. Major support for the ADFCA initiative is provided by a grant from Tufts Health Plan Foundation. 

Tracy Arabian is the communications officer at SeniorCare Inc., Cape Ann’s local area agency on aging.