Washington, D.C., is home to 700,000 people, 12 percent of whom are 65 or older. A member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities since 2012, the district’s age-friendly effort is called Age-Friendly DC.
Age-Friendly DC’s approach during this crisis has been to engage and help older adults while also preventing the further spread of COVID-19. “Our aim is to prevent isolation and loneliness. We’re fortunate to have a robust network of agencies and community organizations that support older residents, and we’ve been collaborating widely,” say Gail Kohn, Age-Friendly DC Coordinator, and Blanche Cotlear, Executive Director of Vida Senior Center.
Age-Friendly DC’s partners include wellness centers, faith-based communities and the city’s 17 village communities, which are neighborhood-based organizations that coordinate volunteer services for older residents. These groups regularly check on people’s well-being along with distributing food and protective equipment.
“The COVID crisis has revealed the huge barriers that keep many older adults from staying connected with people and resources outside of their home since many are unable to easily access and use technology,” explain Kohn and Cotlear.
Age-Friendly DC is addressing this through a partnership with the city’s Chief Technology Officer Office and the DC Public Library. Both departments offer technology training through community organizations using Zoom, Facebook, Twitter, WebEX and other platforms. The Age-Friendly initiative is also working with donors and agencies to find ways of distributing smartphones to people with limited access to the Internet.
Food security is also a threat for many of DC’s older population, so the city’s Department of Aging and Community Living has revamped its programs to deliver meals to more than 5,000 residents who previously were fed at facilities that are now closed. Residents can call the department’s Information & Referral/Assistance helpline for meal assistance.
“We see COVID-19 as an opportunity to shine a light on equity by promoting entrepreneurship, behavioral health support and engagement through civic participation and workforce development,” Kohn and Cotlear note.
For example, the group allied with AARP DC to encourage participation in the 2020 Census and has launched the LGBTQ Intergenerational Synergy Home Sharing Pilot Program, which helps locate LGBTQ-friendly affordable housing for LGBTQ people aged 18 to 24 who are starting careers in long-term care as certified nurse assistants.
The Results, Thus Far
“Through our efforts and the efforts of our partners, we suspect /believe that most older residents are being contacted by Age-Friendly DC, government agencies or nonprofit partners,” Kohn and Cotlear report.
Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson)