Climate Change Inspires Collaborative Action

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From AAI Program Director Linda Jackson:

The largest fires ever. The blistering heat. The drought. The rain deluge. The floods.

My cousin writes from Sweden that this summer is the hottest in 200 years. That was not a typo. And the end of summer is still over six weeks away.

This past month, I experienced 100+ degree weather in Portland, Oregon, and drove through the dense smoke of northern California.

While all this is alarming, I am comforted knowing that people from all arenas are addressing the problem. The path of global warming is increasingly documented by scientists of every field. Researchers are exploring carbon sequestration. Most national governments are moving toward the carbon goals set by the Paris Accord. Car companies are developing more efficient vehicles and innovators are creating new batteries. The state of California, the fifth largest economy of the world, is a leader in setting emissions standards. And major world religions, inspired by leaders like Pope Francis, are embracing the imperative to reduce carbon emissions as quickly as possible.

The motto “Think globally, act locally” has never been more meaningful than today. Here in Marin, we have at least a dozen organizations tackling sustainability. We have to save the planet as it is the only ship we have.

In many ways, climate change activism is a model for our work in the Aging Action Initiative. We are building bridges, tunnels and walkways between the silos we work in – between public agencies, nonprofits, and the health sector. We have goals: to share our knowledge and expertise and findings, to advocate for policy changes, to create innovative approaches that change our work for the better.

One of those innovations is an Inform & Connect workshop happening this month. The workshop is the inspiration of the Marin Interfaith Council. It is the first of an Inform & Connect workshop tailored to specific interests, in this case, of Marin faith leaders wanting to answer the call for help from members of their congregations.

Another innovation is highlighted this month’s newsletter: the collaboration behind the Green and Healthy Homes Initiative. Making our homes more energy efficient is vital to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. GGHI is a collaborative effort that intersects safety and energy retrofits to adapt homes for older adults and to make them more energy efficient. The GHHI network shows how much can be achieved when people come together to do something new in a different way.

These summer months are a chance to slow down, look around and think. As the climate crisis shows us, we must come together to create new and more effective solutions to the challenges we see around us. Our work is essential to helping older people sustain their well-being.

We cannot give up. Our future depends on us doing this work.

~ Linda

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Finding Happiness in Community

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From AAI Program Director Linda Jackson:

For many of us, summer is the season of visiting new and favorite places, and seeing old friends and distant family. It’s also the time we head out to open spaces, enjoying the fresh air and green and gold vistas. I’m accompanied by my summer reading, all about happiness.

My research into ‘happiness’ has several roots. As one of the indicators influencing mental health, isolation affects the ability of older people to age successfully in their community. As we get older, many of us will lose someone closest to us: our spouse or partner, friends and neighbors, work colleagues, and family members. People who live in suburban homes find that when they stop driving, it is much more challenging to do necessary outings for food and time with family and friends. Being “in community,” however we individually define that, is essential for our mental health and our happiness.

A second factor is the understanding that community is a privilege not all of us are fortunate enough to have. The news about families arriving to ask for asylum only to be locked up in separate facilities moves one to despair, the opposite of happiness. In Marin, we stand concerned about our immigrant neighbors. Some of Marin’s immigrants are the clients of AAI partners. They are grandparents, worried about their own citizenship and the precarious situations of their family members. Many AAI partners employ immigrants for administrative and professional support in healthcare and care-giving. One of our partners recently contracted with an immigration attorney to provide consultations for their employees. What a benefit to help their workers have information needed for some peace of mind.

The last source of this deep summer dive into ‘happiness’ is from my own roots: my mother’s parents were from Sweden. I have long been intrigued by the comfortable and happy lives of my cousins and others living in northern Europe. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the greatest life satisfaction is in Norway, Denmark, Switzerland, Iceland, and Finland. Other northern European countries are close behind. (The U.S. ranks #15.)

Meik Wiking, CEO of the Happiness Research Institute (yes, there is such a place!), identifies six components to happiness: togetherness, money, health, freedom, trust, and kindness. Our work in AAI aligns well with these components. We value collaboration, compassion, and respect. We advocate for aging-in-community and economic security. We innovate to improve communication across sectors and address inequities.

This month we highlight a facet of life in northern Europe that we enjoy here in Marin, with our abundant open space. As Dr. Lisa Santora explains this month, “a walk outside” is therapy. Even better is a walk in the woods. To be in nature, in natural habitat, breathing fresh air and experiencing a different setting — together this creates well-being, and yes, happiness.

Check out our greatly-expanded Resource webpage this month. You’ll find research done in Marin and beyond about older adults, and about organizations working with diverse populations. For example, and in honor of being outside, see what the County is planning for its parks in its “Inclusive Action Plan”. Bookmark this site, and use it to find pertinent facts for your grant applications and announcements.

I recently was on a unique walk, on a hunt for a grave marker in the enormous and lovely Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. It was just me and three maps (two from the hand-drawn era), wandering the lanes and gravestones, searching in the heat and shade, hiking over the rises and vales of the landscape, for an elusive stone. With what must have been a dozen restarts, and a pursuit that involved crawling under a bush the size of an elephant and brushing off the pine needles to uncover a granite marker in perfect condition after 83 years, I reached a serendipitous ending. There was my Swedish grandfather’s marker.

John Young

I sat there in the silent shade under the branches for a while, sitting with the memories of stories about this man who died ten years before I was born. With some fruit and water and rest, I was ready for the hike back to the entryway, ready to rejoin the vibrancy of urban Chicago. And, yes, I was happy!

Wishing you the same, and hope to see you on the trails ~

 

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Downsizing to where?

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From Program Director Linda Jackson: 

We decided to downsize this year. Our family home, long an empty nest since our youngest ones flew away, is simply too large for two people. There were rooms we didn’t go into, parts of the yard that we never saw, and decades of stuff that seems to reproduce when we weren’t watching. Most of all, we had a home that deserved to be full with a new, happy family.

The challenge was: Where would we move to in Marin? We wanted a smaller place in a neighborhood where we can walk about, close to restaurants, shops, and the movies. After months of searching, we found what may be be very last new unit in Marin. With little new housing being proposed in Marin, others will find it even more challenging to downsize to a smaller place.

No doubt about it, the process of downsizing is daunting.

It took months of sorting, a moving crew of millennials, and many boxes to give away and donate the things we don’t need anymore. It’s been a sweet good-bye journey, leaving the house we called home the past 28 years. It’s also been great fun to explore our new neighborhood near downtown San Rafael.

I can’t help but wonder how much harder it would be to do this if we were in our 70s or 80s? What options are there for older people in Marin as their lifestyles change? Will there be enough resources for people who want to grow older in their home and community? For those facing dementia or declining health, will they have what they need for safety and companionship?

The question for Marin is: what percentage of residents are going to choose to stay in San Rafael as they grew older? According to a national survey by AARP in 2012, about 90% of older adults intend to stay in their own homes for the next 5 to 10 years.

Have you heard of NORCs, which are a “naturally-occurring retirement community”? The parameters vary in the field, but I like this simple one: if 50 percent of a community’s residents are over 50, then the town is considered a “NORC.” Marin County hasn’t reached NORC status yet, although in 2010 the median age of Marin residents was 44.5, and there were 5,000 more people aged 75 and older than those five and under. There are some Marin places close to having a majority of residents over 50. In Belvedere, 41 percent of its residents were over 50 in 2010. A few communities in Marin have already reached NORCdom, such as the unincorporated community of Dillon Beach, where 62 percent of residents in 2010 were over 50! (You can look up fun census facts at factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/community_facts.xhtml#)

People working with older adults are aware of the issues facing people as they grow older. Will there be housing for others who want to downsize? Will there be enough housing for the people who work in Marin – those who are caregivers, healthcare managers, and homecare experts? What about low-income people who need affordable housing, or people who need extra care, like assisted living or memory care? The recent report Older Adult Housing in Marin: Planning for 2030 estimated that 7,000 of today’s older residents need affordable housing, and that there is a shortfall of hundreds of assisted living and memory care units to meet the 2030 demand.

One small part of the housing solution in Marin is to support, fund, and streamline the process to create more accessory dwelling units. The new units can be for a caregiver, a family member, the homeowner (who can then rent out the main house), or a close-by neighbor, and can provide extra income for the homeowner. In San Rafael, the number of new accessory dwelling units doubled last year, and the city is on track to double that again. We need to do this across Marin!

This month, A.A.I. is working with our partners to ask local Councils and the Board of Supervisors to budget and prioritize funding, support, and streamlining for accessory dwelling units in 2018-19. Join us by talking this month with your elected leaders and challenging them to support this housing option for older people in Marin.

Working together, we can make a difference, starting with a place to call home.

Now, off to unpack some more boxes!

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6th Convening Recap!

MCF 6th Convening

Shirin Vakharia of Marin Community Foundation presents at AAI’s 6th Convening.

From Program Director Linda Jackson:

The highlight of last month was the Aging Action Initiative’s 6th Convening.

We had a full room, dozens of new people, and beaucoup de enthusiasm for the sessions.

Our six Convenings have attracted nearly 500 people. They represent over 130 agencies, nonprofits, and organizations in Marin; 24 agencies have sent three or more people to at least one convening. Our reach is growing because people understand the value of what AAI brings to the work of an age-friendly Marin. Here are some “best parts” comments from this year’s evaluation forms:

  • I was inspired by the four individuals who opened the day. An entertaining and introspective start to the event.
  • So much concern & energy re. making Marin a healthy, secure, safe place to live.
  • Meeting new people; learning about what’s happening in community for seniors and how I can get involved more.
  • Opportunity to network; blend of public, community, and health perspectives.
  • Lens on Aging Equity — questions and discussions at our tables.
  • Reframing aging to be more effective in talking about issues facing older adults.

AAI educates! The morning began with ‘listening in’ to four Marin residents reflect on aging. Read Terri Dowling’s comments on growing older here.

Most of the day was dedicated to learning, thinking, and talking about equity. Laura Eberly of YWCA SF & Marin led two sessions about our own equity-related experiences and perceptions, and about the structure and outlook of our own organizations. You can learn more about the work and offerings of the YWCA at www.ywcasf-marin.org. This history lesson through the eyes of an African American is most insightful: www.youtube.com/watch?v=dw_mRaIHb-M

Shirin Vakharia of Marin Community Foundation moderated a session titled “Bringing Home More than a Tee-Shirt” about the just-concluded national American Society on Aging conference. Not all of us were able to attend the conference in San Francisco, so we brought it back with a panel discussion of highlights and table talks about what people learned. What did we talk about?

  • Livable Communities: housing, transportation, open space
  • Integrated health care models, social determinants of health, and LTSS + CBOs
  • Stigma-resistance and denial and the need to reframe public thinking for acceptance of supports and services for older people
  • “Solo aging” — people without kids who are now without family or spouse support
  • Isolation and health impacts
  • Caregivers: Housing and finding caregivers, workforce/immigration concerns, services in rural communities
  • Hospice/palliative care in home

In addition to equity and the ASA conference, we also talked about ageism and reframing, or revising the way we talk about older people, and the benefits and challenges of growing older.

AAI advocates! The last session of the Convening was all about the four issues we are focusing on this year: housing, aging-in-community, economic security, and transportation. Here are some of the inspirational protest signs made in the afternoon:

  • Work Here. Live Here. Stay Here.
  • End Social Isolation – Visit a Neighbor
  • Reframe our Game to Everyone’s Gain!
  • Livable wages for caregivers now!!!
  • Keep Older People Mobile

AAI promotes service collaboration! The whole day was about this — 74% of attendees reported making at least five new connections and a third of attendees met more than 10 new people.

Thanks to all who came and shared and connected! This is one of the reasons AAI came into being — to make the most of our connections so we can do the most for older people in Marin.

See you around Marin~

P.S. Miss the Convening? Email support@agingactioninitiative.org with your name and organization to request access to panel summaries and presentations.

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Ten things I learned at the Aging in America Conference

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From Program Director Linda Jackson:

Our network was in luck this year: the Aging in America Conference, hosted by the American Society on Aging (ASA), came to San Francisco at the end of March. This full immersion into the world of learning about and advocacy for older people across the United States met all expectations. General sessions covered tantalizing topics such as technology reinventing aging, community-based organizations (CBOs) at the forefront for health interventions, ending senior poverty, and innovations in Alzheimer’s.

Marin had a high profile at the conference. The Aging Action Initiative hosted a peer group discussion on successful approaches to advocacy, education, and service coordination within a collaborative network. Shirin Vakharia of the Marin Community Foundation was one of the five co-chairs on the Conference Leadership Committee and moderator for the “Creating and Sustaining CBO Business Partnerships” session at the Managed Care Academy Boot Camp. A.A.I.’s Steering Committee chair Joe O’Hehir was a highlighted speaker at that Boot Camp. The Buck Institute for Research on Aging sponsored a tour of its I.M. Pei-designed Novato campus. And, Erin McAuliffe of Marin Transit and I volunteered for the world cafe discussions at the Second Annual Summit on Livable Communities, which focused on age-friendly planning.

Here’s my top 10 list of things I heard or learned at the ASA conference:

#10 Over 50% of older people are on Facebook! Older people are increasingly using Facebook to connect with each other and with services, and to learn about opportunities to advocate for change.

#9 The program Silver Sneakers allows eligible adults to access thousands of gyms and fitness classes at no cost. Check it out: www.silversneakers.com.

#8 “We’ve added a decade to our lives, but we are likely to need help in that decade, with more and higher health care costs.” Medical facilities are realizing that when people go home with access to community-based supports, there are fewer readmissions, health care costs go down, and employee satisfaction goes up. As more people grow older in Marin in the next two decades, A.A.I. collaborations can play a pivotal role in ensuring that people can age and die at home, rather than in the ICU or an institution.

#7 “Five percent of the older population are ‘complex patients’ accounting for 58 percent of medical costs.” CBOs need to be mindful in health care partnerships about the time and staff needed to provide services to patients with multiple physical and mental illnesses.

#6 Health = 80% social determinants + 20% genes. Many speakers noted how social determinants of health (poverty, race, immigration status, etc.) are coming of age as a common theme nationwide. This leads us to #5 . . .

#5 “Under the new administration, money is going to tech startups and not CBOs. Funding is going to the disruptors who are not as aware or capable as CBOs in partnering for health care.” Arggh! Keynote speakers pointed out that to reduce emergency room visits, readmissions, and the length of hospital stays, health care institutions need to look for “social practitioners.” CBOs already know about the needs of their communities. They know what it means to be poor, hungry, or an immigrant. The greatest potential today to transform medical care is to partner health care institutions with CBOs and the public sector for more responsive and cost-effective health care.

#4 “Health care happens in the home.” No surprise here: most health care is at home, where people are most comfortable. As I checked out the Exhibition Hall, I came across these fun no-maintenance responsive pets: https://joyforall.hasbro.com. There is a wealth of technological innovations making it possible for people to stay at home for as long as possible.

#3 Alzheimer’s researchers are looking for people for clinical trials. We can help spread the word: https://www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers/clinical-trials

#2 “We are moving from working individually to working collaboratively.” Several speakers celebrated that the recently-adopted budget in Washington included an increase in funding for older Americans, despite an original budget that cut funding. Working together, advocates were able to not just stop cuts to Meals-on-Wheels and others, but to convince elected officials to approve an increase in funding!

#1 We must stop using language that triggers negatives, creates a fear about aging, and repels potential supporters.” The collaborative Reframing Aging project by eight of the leading aging organizations in the U.S. has the goal to reduce ageism through changing public perceptions about growing older. It provides a wealth of resources for you to use in your organization. Check out this online toolkit. At AAI’s 2018 Convening, we introduced ‘reframing,’ and you will hear more from A.A.I. about this transformative approach this year.

I came back to Marin and our lively 2018 Convening on April 3. Over 100 people came this year! We had a lovely day in Tiburon. In this newsletter, we have A.A.I. Steering Committee member Teri Dowling’s inspired reflection on words from Buddha. In case you missed the Convening, here’s your peek into what we talked about: https://www.ted.com/talks/ashton_applewhite_let_s_end_ageism (Ashton Applewhite TED Talk about ageism). I promise that A.A.I. will share more about this transformative approach in upcoming months.

See you around Marin ~

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