It doesn’t take a crystal ball to know that the country’s senior population is booming. By 2030, the number of American elders is expected to outnumber the population of children for the first time, according to U.S. Census projections. Here in the L.A. area, between 2010 and 2030, the population of people over 60 is expected to double, from 1.8 million to a whopping 3.6 million.
Is metro L.A. ready for the elder explosion? How residents in a vast county that encompasses 88 cities and 140 unincorporated areas be served most effectively? How do you effectively connect with a economically and culturally diverse region that speaks in 200 languages? What’s the best way to reimagine the region as a place where everyone wants to stay and grow comfortably old with adequate support? Can L.A. adult?
Currently, L.A. County and city are participating in a three-year action plan to tackle some of the biggest issues facing seniors who want to live out their golden years in the Golden State. The roots stretch back to 2008, when L.A. County Supervisors created a Seamless Senior Service task force to explore how to best integrate services. In 2016, the county shifted into higher gear and instructed the Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS) to collaborate across 20 departments on the Purposeful Aging Los Angeles initiative (PALA), with the goal of targeting specific ways to make the L.A. region more senior-friendly. County staffers also reached out to coordinate their efforts with the City of Los Angeles Department of Aging.
The goal is to “improve not just the lives of older adults, but Angelenos of all ages,” says Joel Diaz, public information officer for WDACS. “Everyone is aging. We don’t want people to move out of the Los Angeles area, but stay here happily and engage with their community and families.”
An extensive research phase took place in 2017; WDACS launched a countywide survey with folks from AARP, the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and UCLA’s Los Angeles Community Academic Partnership for Research in Aging. Presented in nine languages, the survey was designed to learn more about the needs and realities of older people; more than 14,000 respondents answered questions on a broad range of topics. Stakeholders, advocates and professionals who work with older adults reviewed the results and developed recommendations; 300 older adults helped prioritize them.
The result? The countywide Age-Friendly Action Plan for 2018 to 2021 promotes 34 recommendations on how to make the following sectors more age-friendly: employment and civic participation, housing, emergency preparedness, social participation and use of outdoor space, among others. The emphasis is on practical and innovative ideas that unite public and private leadership, resources and strategies.
During its three-year lifespan, the Action Plan encourages and directs organizers at all levels to take greater advantage of resources and connections. Since its kick-off, new activities and programs have been launched. Here are just a few:
Dementia Friends/L.A. Found
An estimated 147,140 Angelenos currently live with Alzheimer’s disease, and by 2030 that number could reach more than 290,000. Research shows that the number of Latinos and Asian Pacific Islanders experiencing dementia will triple; among African Americans it will double.
In partnership with Alzheimer’s Greater Los Angeles, PALA launched Dementia Friends L.A., part of a worldwide campaign started in the United Kingdom to create dementia-friendly environments and encourage a deeper understanding of individuals with dementia. The public can attend in-person talks or watch informational videos that offer instruction on how to detect certain dementia symptoms, along with practical advice on interacting with afflicted loved ones. More details at: alzheimersla.org/los-angeles.
There’s also the new L.A. Found program, a spinoff of the county’s Bringing Our Loved Ones Home Task Force, which tackled the problem of wandering seniors with dementia. L.A. Found was implemented last year, providing families with a more direct connection for help with wandering elders who get lost. Individuals are fitted with a lightweight electronic wristband, called a Project Lifesaver. This radio-frequency tracking device allows the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department to coordinate a countywide response when someone goes missing. Since its inception, two wandering individuals were successfully located within hours of the alert. “It’s incredible to see the effectiveness of this program,” says Diaz. He adds that the LAPD and local fire departments are also working together to respond to 911 calls and find wandering family members, sometimes even via helicopter. At the program kick-off last summer, more than 100 wristbands were handed out to caregivers. There is a $325 fee for the devices, although there are financial breaks for those with qualifying incomes. More details are at lafound.com.
New Freedom Taxicab Service Program/Volunteer Driver Mileage Reimbursement
Getting around L.A. County is a hassle at any age. For disabled seniors, it can be complex and frustrating. As of this year, the New Freedom Taxicab
Service Program offers eligible disabled seniors 60 years and older a monthly maximum of four free one-way trips covering a grand total of 40 miles. Rides must begin and end in L.A. County and can be arranged seven days a week; seniors can also request special wheelchair vans and/or ramps. Rides can be for medical appointments, shopping, banking, senior centers visits, volunteer sites and other reasons.
Still, some seniors (especially those who are more ill or frail) may feel more comfortable being driven by someone they know personally, such as a spouse, caregiver, neighbor or friend. The new Volunteer Driver Mileage Reimbursement program will financially reimburse these volunteers who drive a senior to needed destinations such as doctors’ offices and therapy centers as well as social outings. Seniors create a list of approved volunteers who can drive them and they receive mileage reimbursements for their approved trips (also within L.A. County) on a monthly basis, which they pass on to their drivers. The program has no limit on the number of monthly trips, but it caps out at a total of 250 miles a month, at a rate of 44 cents per mile ($110 maximum).
For more information, visit newfreedom.lacounty.gov or call (888) 863-7411.
Aging Mastery Program (AMP)
This free 10-week program offers core and elective classes that incorporate expert speakers, group discussions and resource materials. Each week features a different discussion topic related to health, finances and other concerns. Currently, the program is currently being offered at a select number of senior centers in the county, but more are being planned for the spring and summer. The participating center closest to Pasadena is the L.A. LGBT Center Anita May Rosenstein Campus at 1116 N. McCadden Pl. in Hollywood. Find out more at https://wdacs.lacounty.gov/amp/
Meanwhile, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted in February to explore the feasibility of creating an entire new department (working with? Los Angeles city? services) focused solely on serving older adults. This stand-alone county entity — which may be dubbed Seniors Advancing Gracefully Everywhere (SAGE), a moniker suggested by Supervisor Janice Hahn — could integrate services and provide an overarching strategy with perhaps a bigger focus on job training, employment and social services. Officials are researching the feasibility of such a standalone department and targeting what county programs and services could be included in that consolidation; a final report will be presented back to the board by year’s end.
No doubt, there will be many more chapters in local governments’ push for greater age-friendliness. Stay tuned.