Eagle County’s Aging Well Initiative has programs, services for older adults
Special to the Daily
Aging well resources
Visit www.agingwelleaglecounty.org to learn more about these four organizations:
• Alpine Area Agency on Aging, www.alpineaaa.org, 970-468-0295
• Eagle County Public Health, Healthy Aging, www.eaglecounty.us/publichealth, 970-328-8896 or 970-328-8831
• Western Colorado 211, www.wc211.org, dial 211
On the site, you can also find:
• Downloadable blank copies of all the documents that go in the red binder (complete red binders are available at any of the local libraries or at the Eagle and Minturn senior sites).
• Information about caregiver services.
• A senior housing map.
• Tips for serving older adults.
• Information about upcoming healthy-aging events.
According to the 2017 Eagle County Aging Well Community Report, the fastest population growth in Eagle, Garfield and Pitkin counties will be among residents older than 65. The region’s overall population is projected to double between 2010 and 2035, while the number of older adults age 65 or older is expected to quadruple during that time.
This demographic data, paired with a passion for ensuring people of all ages feel welcomed in the community, was the impetus for the Eagle County Aging Well Community Planning Initiative, said Carly Rietmann, the healthy aging program supervisor for Eagle County Public Health and Environment.
“It was a combination of understanding the demographics and wanting to make sure we’re really valuing our older adult population here,” Rietmann said. “And then making sure older adults know that they have a definite purpose here, that they play a big role in contributing to the wholeness of the community and that we want to help them stay here for as long as they want to.
“We had a passionate group who wanted to do the work, and we had an interest in really focusing on helping this specific population thrive.”
Since 2014, Eagle County Public Health and Environment, along with representatives from other local organizations such as the Eagle Valley Library District and various community representatives, have been working together on the Aging Well Initiative, with the goal of creating programs and systems that allow older Eagle County adults to independently age in place.
According to the 2017 Eagle County Aging Well Community Report, older adults who are supported by their community in remaining independent are likely to experience an improved quality of life and have fewer hospital visits and rates of disability.
In order to begin to address aging in Eagle County, the Aging Well Initiative team conducted an assessment of the current state of the programs, systems and resources that have the potential to support aging in place in Eagle County. Their assessment identified gaps in the areas of community design, connection to resources, employment, health care, housing, social and community engagement and transportation.
From there, Rietmann said, they worked with a consultant to identify four clear priority focus areas, which include connection to resources, specialty health care, housing and social and community engagement. Since 2015, committees assigned to each of these priority areas have identified and worked toward achieving objectives associated with each of these goals.
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Connection to resources
Rietmann is enthusiastic about the progress they have made both since the initiative kicked off in 2015 and since the Aging Well Community Report was released.
“One of the biggest successes we’ve had so far has been with our connection to resources group,” Rietmann said. “This group was charged with trying to create some sort of central hub for information for anything to do with aging in Eagle County so people aren’t, in the time of need or crisis, flipping through phone books or going through websites and aren’t sure what number to call or who to call.”
They decided to create a dedicated Aging Well Eagle County website. The website’s content is focused on directing people to four local organizations that provide programs and services for older adults, including Eagle County Public Health’s Healthy Aging program, the Alpine Area Agency on Aging, the Eagle Valley Library District, including the Town of Vail Public Library, and Western Colorado 211.
“We chose these four organizations because they have all been in existence for quite a long time. … They all have a single phone number where a live person answers the phone, they all have a web presence that’s pretty easy to navigate and they all, except for 211, have physical locations,” Rietmann said.
The website, Rietmann said, was specifically designed to be easy to use and straightforward — “no frills,” as she put it. Users will find phone numbers, website URLs and a description of services provided by each organization and not much else on the aging well website. Which, Rietmann said, is the point.
“The intent was really for us to do all the work,” she said. “So, instead of people having to dig through layers and layers of information … the idea is find which organization within this group maybe fits the best direction you’re needing to go at this time, call or get on that website and then let the people behind the scenes do all that digging for you.”
Red Binder Project
Another success of the initiative, to date, Rietmann said, is the Red Binder Project, which was created by the specialty health care team.
“Originally, we were talking about how to get physicians on board to help older adults with their journey through the health care system,” Rietmann said. “Then, after looking at that a little more closely and looking at some historical work we’d done, we found that it really isn’t realistic to put that onto the physicians, based on the plate load that they already have.
“So, we kind of shifted focus to more of the patient empowerment, figuring out how to give older adults the tools they need to be their own advocate in the doctor’s office.”
The resulting tool is a red binder that contains a hard copy of all of an individual’s critical health information, such as a medication list, allergy information and advance directives. It also has a place where the user can write down questions to ask his or her doctor prior to an office visit, and then take notes during that visit to help him or her remember what the doctor said.
Local first responders have been taught to look for red binders when responding to an emergency call. More than 200 red binders have been distributed to date throughout the community.
While resources such as the Aging Well website and the Red Binder Project have been designed to be used by older adults themselves, other resources have been designed to help local businesses and organizations better serve older adults.
Tips and tricks
This is the case with resources created by both the housing and the social and community engagement teams. The housing team, for example, has created a home-modification document with tips and information for contractors who might be hired to update a home to better equip it for an aging tenant.
Similarly, the social and community engagement team created tips and tricks tools to help businesses, organizations and event producers better serve Eagle County’s aging population.
“We came up with some tips and tricks that we emailed out to other organizations,” said Tegan Davis, who is a member of the social and community engagement team and a librarian at the Avon Public Library. “We focused on things like, how do you market your program or event to an aging population and how do you make sure that your facility is geared to older adults?”
Marketing tips include things such as using a larger font size when designing a flyer for an event, and when using social media, stick to Facebook and Twitter.
When it’s time to host your event, be mindful of simple considerations that can make a big difference, Davis said.
“It helps if your parking lots are clear of ice, if your walkways are snow-free. … This will help to ease anxieties for anyone showing up for your program,” she said. “Also, think about the time of your program, especially in the winter when it gets darker earlier, a lot of older adults don’t want to be driving around in the dark in winter.
“Make sure there’s a microphone in the room, make sure that there’s accessibility for different types of older adults. And, remember to market what resources you already have that might help with accessibility issues. And then also think about chair set up. … If the chairs are packed tight, someone who uses a mobility device isn’t going to feel comfortable going into that row.”
Davis said local libraries, including the Avon library, are working to incorporate these tips into their own programming because, ultimately, she said, it’s important for all members of the community to think about and plan for the future.
“It’s exciting to be a part of the initiative, but also a community that wants to be fore-thinking and they’re progressive so they want to be proactive instead of reactive,” Davis said. “We know what’s coming down the pipeline because of the statistics, and so you’re being proactive on this so that we’re ready and not caught off guard. I really like being a part of that.”
Rietmann agreed and stressed that it’s important to look at the demographic shift as an opportunity.
“This can be a really positive thing. … If we have systems in place to help people age well, then we won’t have to worry so much about crisis-level care,” Rietmann said. “How do we re-incorporate those older adults who are retired back into the community and use their knowledge and expertise to our community’s benefit? It could be really great and really beneficial to our community if we just reframe how we’re looking at it. We all want to age here, so it behooves us to all be involved in this.”