CA releases plans for Columbia's older adults

After a year and a half of research and discussion, the Columbia Association's 16-member work team has published a draft of the Comprehensive Plan for Older Adults, a 30-page report aimed at guiding the organization's future service for residents ages 55 and up.

The report, which was published earlier this month, puts forth myriad recommendations that includes programming changes, creating a CA staff position, financially supporting other organizations and advocating for issues.

A public hearing on the draft report, which is available on CA's website, is scheduled for Jan. 13 at Slayton House in the Wilde Lake Village Center. CA is hosting two sessions, the first from 10 a.m. to noon and a second from 5 to 7 p.m.

"Our goal and desire is to get as much input on that draft plan from the community," said Rob Goldman, CA's vice president.

Goldman said the Jan. 13 public hearing is a big part of that process, but residents will have an opportunity to provide more comment until the end of January. The comments will then be implemented and the report will be presented to the CA Board of Directors for approval, which Goldman estimates will be in March.

According to the report, approximately 24 percent of Columbia's population is 55 and older, an increase over past years. The report states that forecasts indicate the proportion will continue to increase rapidly, growing by more than 50 percent by 2020.

"This is the fastest growing segment of the community," said Jane Dembner, CA's principal manager for Community Building and Sustainability.

Dembner said the community's changing demographics warrant the report, which forecasts recommendations over a 10-year period.

The recommendations are divided into nine topics, but the two most pressing topics are transportation and aging in place.

Goldman said those issues were identified from a series of research tools, including a statistically valid phone survey and focus groups.

"Those are the two that rose to the top," Goldman said.

For transportation, the report almost exclusively recommends CA work in a support and advocacy role with Howard County government and Neighbor Ride, a volunteer-based transportation service for Senior Citizens.

"CA is not in the transportation business," Dembner said. "There is a lot of language in here about how we can advocate and partner with others, but [transportation] is not one of the key components of service we provide."

The report also recommends CA continue to financially support the Senior Events Shuttle, which it operates in partnership with Vantage House. The report recommends CA advocate that the county expand its options and routes to appeal more to older adults.

Aging in place, a term used to describe older adults who wish to age in their lifelong homes and communities, was another pressing concern.

According to the study commissioned by the report, 61 percent of older adults said they want to stay in Columbia, while 31 percent said they are likely to leave.

However, the older the adult the more likely they are to stay, as 83 percent of those surveyed who are 65 or older said they want to stay in Columbia.

The report recommends CA continue to support the county's Home Repair and Modification program, which provides funding to residents who need to modify their home because of a health issue; and recommends that CA work with the village associations to change the architectural guidelines to make it easier for people to add wheelchair ramps and other additions.

The report also recommends CA support and assist the Village in Howard concept, a grassroots effort to build a community of senior citizens that support each other as they age in place.

Not listed under the two most pertinent topics but a key recommendation nonetheless is the creation of a CA staff member who is "an older adult subject matter expert." This person, who may have other duties, would provide CA updates on issues and services.

"This person would be constantly studying best practices and someone who really understood what was available for older adults," said Goldman.

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