May is “Older Americans Month.”
For those considered “older” who live in Miami-Dade, there’s little to celebrate. Except for the lucky ones who have the means to secure healthcare, recreation, transportation and companionship, the quality of life diminishes as they retire, age and struggle with how to get to the store, maintain their homes and stretch limited finances.
Recreational activities that filled their weekends when they were younger, all but disappear from their routine, a detriment to their health. Depression is real, advocates recently told the Editorial Board. So is isolation, all potentially life-shortening conditions.
But a new campaign under the auspices of Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez is out to change all that. “We want seniors to have richer fuller lives in our community,” said Michael Spring, a senior adviser — no pun intended — to the mayor. That’s a worthy challenge, kicked off recently at a county-sponsored summit on the issue.
The Age-Friendly Initiative is supported by a coalition of county agencies, nonprofits and corporations. Residents, too, should add their voices to the cause of improving the quality of life for Miami-Dade’s aging population — which will be sizable. The county has the largest population of older adults in the state, and soon three out of 10 people in the county will be at least 60 years old. Baby boomers are the main players in the “graying of America” — and South Florida.
The Initiative’s goal is to foster a more-inclusive attitude, to raise civic, governmental and corporate leaders’ understanding of the issues that affect aging residents. In other words, if a condo is going up in downtown Miami, the needs of older residents — not just millennials — should be considered. The same applies for businesses such as restaurants. Keeping older residents in mind means more than just providing an early-bird special.
Leading the way for local boomers — a vocal group that doesn’t want to be denied a higher quality of life — are several agencies, including AARP Florida, Alliance for Aging, Health Foundation of South Florida, United Way and Urban Health Partnerships.
“There’s not a Children’s Trust or a PAC supporting older individuals. They need a coordinated voice,” said Max Rothman, CEO of Alliance for Aging.
And this is not your grandfather’s old-age initiative. Martha Peláez, head of Florida Health Networks, said unlike previous generations, baby boomers will turn away from senior centers and comedores popular with their Cuban parents. “They have a more youthful outlook on life,” she said.
The coalition has created an action plan that will be unveiled soon. “For advocacy to succeed, it has to have an agenda,” said Peter Wood, vice president for Health Foundation of South Florida. Well said.
Here are some small steps that can be taken: Building complete streets, integrating public transportation, constructing mixed-use projects and setting aside housing for seniors, upgrading public spaces to include more benches, water fountains and lighting. One idea is to turn parks and libraries into places seniors can use for activities during the hours when kids are at school.
If the Initiative succeeds — and it must for the good of not just older adults but also for their families and for this community’s future — the campaign will transform Miami-Dade into a place where older adults can age with dignity and enjoyment.