Seniors say there is a lot to love about Central Florida, but there is plenty of room for improvement when it comes to how well it supports the needs of older adults, particularly in the area of transportation and attitudes.
The Winter Park Health Foundation (WPHF), which has the health and well-being of older adults as one of its focus areas, in November approved a $10,300 grant to the Rollins College Hamilton Holt School to conduct qualitative research to determine how age-friendly the local community is for older adults.
“We know as people age, their health needs can change, and these changes can make visiting public places difficult for a number of reasons,” said Diana Silvey, WPHF Program Director, Older Adults. “Since we know older adults want to age in their communities, it is important that public venues support people of all ages so they can participate fully in parks, recreation, retail, healthcare, etc.”
Rollins College engaged SalterMitchell, a marketing firm, which held focus groups with older adults with physical impairments, conducted in-depth interviews with local leaders, and analyzed an online survey completed by older adults and older adult advocates. In all, over 200 people participated.
Overall, older adult respondents liked living in Central Florida and felt some businesses make an effort to accommodate their needs. Participants who were business or government leaders with significant older adult customers or constituencies were also highly receptive to making additional accommodations to the extent the budget allowed.
That said, here are key areas in need of improvement highlighted across the research segments:
- Transportation and environmental barriers. The lack of reliable and affordable transportation was the single largest challenge identified by both resident and advocate respondents, closely followed by environmental barriers that limit older adults with mobility or vision challenges.
- Engagement. Older adult respondents wanted more opportunities to be engaged socially, mentally, and physically in their communities, and some struggled with social isolation. (This was exacerbated by transportation deficits and environmental barriers.)
- Making the individual business case. Business leader respondents were influenced by the factors affecting their particular industry, customer demographics, and even zip code. For those without a current and obvious older adult customer base, or who lacked personal experience with age-related impairments, there was no clear incentive for change. Making the business case will have to include information about how such changes benefit individual businesses, not just businesses overall.
- A clear sense of what’s needed most. Business and government leader respondents with a significant number of older adult customers or constituents were open to making changes, but often lacked a clear idea of what changes would most help older adults and how such changes could be made cost-effectively.
- Moving beyond the “squeaky wheels.” A few older adult respondents had effectively advocated for changes, but most felt their requests for accommodations were largely ignored. Meanwhile, local leader respondents noted that they often hear only the loudest (not necessarily the most representative) voices, pointing to a clear need for teaching older adults how to effectively advocate for change and for teaching businesses and institutions to provide channels for actively listening and responding to requests.
- A need for training and awareness. Older adult respondents said attitudes in the community were a major barrier for feeling welcomed and included. Respondents reported being frequently talked down to, ignored, or summarily given help they didn’t want simply because of their age. They said sales representatives, as well as fellow customers, also frequently dealt them impatiently. Businesses that received high marks from respondents were those with staff trained to politely and effectively respond to older adult customers.
The survey results are being considered by a group of stakeholders–including representatives from UCF, AARP, WPHF, Rollins College and others. The group is looking for the best ways to begin addressing the areas of concern and is tentatively planning a conference focused on the topics this fall. Stay tuned.