| Ryan Feyre
AGAWAM – Agawam is trying to find ways to effectively accommodate its aging population and to that end, the city’s Council on Aging, in partnership with the Planning Department and several other municipal departments and committees, is working with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) on certain projects that can make Agawam a better community for those who are either aging, or have dementia.
The Age Friendly Agawam working group has developed a survey to gather input from older adults and their caregivers on a number of aspects in the community that make it a good place in which to grow old, as well as some of the big issues the aging population faces.
The PVPC received a grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation for a three-year project to help provide assistance to cities and towns in Hampden and Hampshire county, according to Becky Basch, the senior planner at the PVPC. The project will help them find ways to become age and dementia-friendly, according to Basch.
According to the assessment’s press release, the results of the survey, and public forums that will be scheduled after the first of the year, will help the Agawam working group develop an “Age and Dementia-Friendly Community Assessment and Action Plan.”
The report based on the survey results and forums will be submitted to AARP and Dementia Friendly Massachusetts, which will provide Agawam with an official designation as an age and dementia-friendly community. A roadmap for changes that can be made to make Agawam a more welcoming place will also come out of this report.
“That’s a process of developing community assessments and action plans for the next five years basically,” said Basch. “The project also involves quarterly meetings with any communities doing this work.”
Basch was one of the people who worked on Agawam’s accessory dwelling ordinance that would have allowed Agawam residents to build accessory housing in the area for the town’s aging population. In a Nov. 4 public hearing, the city council voted against the ordinance.
"I kind of started with communities I’ve already worked with, and had a relationship with,” said Basch. “As we’ve been reaching out to these other communities, we’ve had some other interest.”
Along with the survey, much of the action plan has a lot to do with community engagement, particularly with senior centers, said Basch. Due to COVID-19 however, a lot of the action plan will be conducted online.
“So working with local cable stations and senior centers we may also do some individual interviews with some older adults,” said Basch. “The idea is to get as much participation from older adults and caregivers to see what they like about living in the community, and what the greatest challenges are.”
Another part of this plan is to look into housing and transportation accessibility in cities like Agawam. Basch refers to these as the “built” environment. Walkability is also a large part of the built environment. The PVPC and work groups look to see if there are ramps for elderly people who may have wheel chairs, or other issues with walking.
There is also a “social environment” aspect that must be monitored in a plan like this.
“The social environment includes social participation, civic engagement, employment, access to health care services, and communication,” said Basch. “A lot of what we’re doing now is seeing how people get information.”
With COVID-19, there are additional challenges for the aging population to get food, according to Basch. Much of the elderly population would usually go to senior centers for social interaction and food, which has become tougher since the spring.
“And now, a lot of senior centers are delivering food,” said Basch.
The survey hopes to unveil these challenges, and allow caregivers and the aging population to provide the working group with information regarding Agawam’s environment.
“It’s estimated by 2035, the percentage of older adults in each community will exceed the number of children under 18,” said Basch. “There’s a lot of valuable knowledge in people who are retired, and they have a lot to offer. Making it as easy as possible for them to continue to participate is really key in all aspects of the community.”
To complete the survey, visit https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSdaw4Qwu2bk0dn6Mcspgg9RfFz85BAGON_5HrBlsEpZ4Mm_cw/viewform.
All respondents may enter a drawing to receive a Stop and Shop gift card once the survey is closed. The survey will be open to the public until Dec. 31.