Transportation remains a key concern among seniors, according to a needs-assessment survey of residents 55 and older in Los Altos and Los Altos Hills.
Although most respondents indicated that they do not need immediate assistance with transportation, they expressed anxiety about their situations 10-15 years down the line, the survey reported.
“Transportation is a major concern,” said Karen Jenney, chairwoman of the Los Altos and Los Altos Hills Senior Commission. “It really narrows your world.”
Last fall, the city councils of Los Altos and Los Altos Hills jointly established a nine-member Senior Commission to promote and enhance the quality of life and well-being for senior citizens in both communities.
As a first step to gather accurate information, the commission mailed 4,539 surveys, each with 24 questions, to seniors in the two communities. The commission received a 23 percent response rate, with 1,032 surveys completed and returned, according to Jenney. Residents ages 61-85 contributed 83 percent of the responses; 55-60, 13 percent; and those older than 85, 4 percent, with males and females contributing equally.
“It was really obvious that the seniors wanted to be heard,” Jenney said. “(The survey) would at least help some seniors plan for the future.”
The survey covered a variety of topics, including present living conditions, type of transportation used, need for shuttle services, need for affordable housing, employment status, desire to build skills or gain employment, health insurance, exercise needs, senior center activities, estate planning, library patronage and volunteer opportunities.
The responses included thoughtful answers and provocative comments, according to Jenney, and indicated that while some seniors use the current services provided by the cities, some do not.
Commissioners sorted the responses into five major categories:
• Transportation: Respondents expressed interest in shuttle services, more bicycle lanes, well-lit sidewalks and a low-cost car service.
• Aging in place: 744 respondents live with spouses, 190 live alone and 885 prefer to remain in their current residences as they age.
• Senior center: Seniors would gather and participate in activities in a new senior center that included a warm pool and access to an exercise and fitness area.
• Active participation: Classes on finance, computers, health, nutrition and fitness appealed to respondents.
• Emergency preparedness: Respondents registered their interest in being better prepared in the event of a disaster through classes on safety and protection.
As baby boomers – those born between 1946 and 1964 – age, the percentage of seniors in the two cities will continue to increase, causing a corresponding rise in the need for social services, Jenney said. The elderly can easily become isolated when they are without transportation and lack information about resources, services and support.
“We have a population that will desperately need all the services,” said Commissioner Tanya DeMare. “That’s going to be one of our charges.”
Commissioners will submit their recommendations for the senior community in an official report to both city councils, Jenney said.
Los Altos Hills Mayor Ginger Summit said one of the most valuable aspects of the commission is that the two cities are collaborating and presenting a united front for the project.
“It’s an opportunity for us to start being synergistic,” she said. “This has been one of my pet projects. I’m thrilled that this is off the ground.”
Both councils approved the commission’s proposal last month to submit applications to the World Health Organization (WHO) for inclusion in the WHO Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities.
WHO, the public-health arm of the United Nations, defines an age-friendly city as one that offers intergenerational sensitivity and an inclusive and accessible environment for all ages, according to Los Altos resident and Commissioner Anabel Pelham, Ph.D., professor of gerontology at San Francisco State University.
Pelham said the next step in the application is to evaluate the senior-friendliness of the cities in eight areas: outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, civic participation and employment, communication and information, and community support and health services.
The process would take time, but if approved, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills would be the first cities in California designated “age-friendly” by WHO, ranking them nationally with Portland, Ore., and New York City.
For more information, visit www.losaltosca.gov.