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Bellingham Looking to Become Age/Dementia Friendly

B: Dave Dunbar

“We don’t know what we don’t know,” observed Kay Page, the chair of the local committee looking into how Bellingham can become designated an Age/Dementia Friendly town.  

The subject is huge, and the unknowns numerous. What actually constitutes “Age/Dementia Friendly” and who says so? What does Bellingham already do/have that makes it Friendly, and what more needs to be done? Who’s going to pay for changes to things like parks, buildings, shopping areas? Finding out “what we don’t know” is key to going forward.

Age and dementia friendly community initiatives aim to promote a high quality of life for each person regardless of age, physical or cognitive abilities.  Housing, transportation, outdoors and buildings, public safety, and social inclusion are all areas to be considered.

“The town and I are making wholeheartedly to developing Bellingham into the age and dementia friendly community that our citizens deserve,” says Kelly Grant, a Select Board member. 

Grant, and seven others, are on the “Age/Dementia Friendly Bellingham Committee” chaired by Kay Page (who also chairs the Council on Aging).

Father Al Faretra of Saint Blaise Catholic Church in Bellingham is a committee member.  “Systems established supposedly to make things easier have actually made it harder for some people,” he observed at a meeting last month.

Take the town’s permitting process, for example.  Want a permit to burn brush in your yard?  You’ll be asked to fill out an application online.  But not everyone, especially seniors, can do that.  

“We need to do a better job of helping our older adults,” observes Josie Dutil, executive director of the town’s Senior Center.  “They need help with technology, like computers.  They need to feel valued.”

Dutil explains, “Age Friendly towns can address sidewalks on streets for strollers and walkers, park benches that include arm rests in the middle, paint and floor colors that enhance diminished vision and much more.”

Police Chief Ken Fitzgerald and Fire Chief Bill Miller exchanged thoughts about the permitting processes in town, the value of responding to calls for help that might seem unimportant, dealing with levels of state and local government going paperless, and figuring out ways to stay in touch with seniors.  Both chiefs are on the Age/Dementia Friendly Bellingham Committee, and they were present at last month’s meeting.

Over the next few weeks, committee members will be developing plans that include recruiting additional members, talking with leaders in nearby towns that have become age and dementia friendly, surveying Bellingham residents, exploring available grant money, and finding out more about establishing an elder services ombudsman position.

On the national front, AARP engages with elected officials, partner organizations and local leaders to guide communities through the age-friendly network’s assessment, planning, implementation, and evaluation processes.  “Well-designed, age-friendly communities foster economic growth and make for happier, healthier residents of all ages,” according to the AARP website.

Kelly Grant notes some of the topics the town is already exploring: streamlining library services so they become more user friendly, utilizing “Code Red” calling ability to reach folks without computers, and offering training on age and dementia to town employees.

At the Senior Center, “Coffee & Conversation” is offered every Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.  It’s a free-flowing discussion about many topics, and one of them could be Age/Dementia Friendly communities.  If you have thoughts on the subject, here’s your opportunity to share them.

And then on September 12, the “Age/Dementia Friendly Bellingham Committee” will meet at the Senior Center.  If you would like to learn more or get involved, then please contact Kay Page at (508) 966-1804 or email [email protected]

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