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Age Friendly: Respect and Social Inclusion

Photo from Seattle Lifelong Recreation

*Originally Published in the Queen Anne and Magnolia News

“Every time I read or hear the words “the elderly,” I feel a lump in my throat,” writes Adrienne Ione, Founder of Silver Linings Integrative Health. Adrienne goes on to say, if we were to reference any one group as “the ____” it would be “so obviously prejudicial, and disrespectful, yet [why] is this not prejudicial when it comes to older adults?”

Adrienne’s statement rings very true to me. And it should ring true to most of us because we are all getting older. None of us wants to be lumped in a group, it can feel disrespectful and isolating.

Demographic data shows that in less than 25 years, 25 percent of us in Seattle and King County will be over 60 years old. For those who aren’t paying close attention, that means if you are 35 now, in 25 years you’ll be joining the ranks of “The Elderly,” if we don’t update our thinking.

The City of Seattle is taking intentional actions to make Seattle Age Friendly for All — not only for your parents and grandparents, but for you and your kids too. These efforts are gaining support and understanding throughout our City, so the benefits will be recognizable.

The Age Friendly Seattle program is focused on developing and maintaining “the eight domains of livability”, which are factors influencing the health and well-being of every age group. The domains are useful categories including housing, transportation, quality of life, access to community assets and much more.  By mindfully improving each domain, we can ensure a healthier environment, economy, and society for all of us now, and for our future selves and families too.

We all know that as we go through phases in our lives, our needs and desires change. People who are retired, or who no longer have kids at home, or who are without family nearby often tell me they feel isolated and alone. The word I frequently hear is “invisible.” Many express a need for genuine connection, yet new friendships or support can be hard to come by.

I saw this isolation firsthand.

My dad who was an extremely upbeat person throughout his life suddenly faced depression — an unnatural state for him — after my mom died. Although he loathed to admit it, Dad told me one day he no longer felt useful to anyone. The deep sadness in his voice broke my heart.

My husband and I ultimately convinced Dad to move to Seattle and live in an apartment in our building. We were lucky to find a place that worked for him and us both and it turned out to be a fabulous time for all of us. Through this experience I learned a great deal about access to buildings, sidewalks, or transportation (or lack thereof) and Dad’s mobility difficulties.

For those who don’t have a network of close family or friends, the rest of us become their support system if we are aware and willing. One of the eight domains of livability is “Respect and Social Inclusion.” The heart of this domain is the simple fact that everyone wants to be valued. While the City is working on improving infrastructure and programming, realistically valuing and including people is one area that we, as individuals must embrace person by person.

So, where to start? To increase respect and social inclusion of and for all I recommend these guiding principles:

First, I believe that everyone irrespective of age, gender, orientation, or family background is an individual worthy of respect and love. Only by spending time with another can we look deep and find that worth.

Second, I try not to make assumptions about the individual’s interests or needs. I ASK.

Third, I know that many people complain about feeling invisible or alone and I do what I can to make personal contact and learn more from that person.

The lessons to address social isolation are clear: lead with love, ask instead of assume, and genuinely engage with people one at a time.

As an advocate of keeping people connected and involved, I am hosting an event titled “Engage at Every Age” planned to take place at Mirabella Seattle (116 Fairview Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109) on Friday, May 4.  At this meeting, Seattle City leaders will discuss some of the ways our city can better engage with individuals across age groups, how we can continue to improve our eight domains of livability, and to provide resources to get informed, engaged and organized for ourselves and community. This meeting will be open to the public, and we encourage all who are able to join us!  For more information, and to RSVP please visit: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/engageMay4.

Over the coming months I will continue to highlight programs in Seattle and elsewhere I believe can improve our lives — but for now I hope you will take the most basic step with me — respect and seek to listen and include one new person in your life every day. There’s no short cut, but the results will be worth the investment. My goal is to make Seattle the model for Age Friendly cities across the nation, and you can help.

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