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Progressive Voice: You Can Help Build an Age-Friendly Arlington

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

By Martha Villanigro-Santiago

At any age, we must be intentional about living your best possible life, especially being healthy and active. It’s important that individuals, community and government use data and resources to develop policies, programs and other assets that enable aging residents to flourish in Arlington.

As a caregiver and aging advocate, every day I recognize that enjoying the services and choices of daily life later on requires serious planning now. Here are three lessons I’ve learned to help aging residents enjoy a fulfilling life.

Get to Know Your Neighborhood

For a happier life a few years down the road, we may want to make better-informed choices about where we choose to live based on where we like to eat and socialize. We might want to consider how easy will it be to travel to and from the supermarket. Will we want to drive, walk or ride public transportation?

Fortunately, Arlington County is a member of the AARP network of Age Friendly Communities. This means that it is a community that is beneficial to all ages. This initiative focuses on livability. “Livability” is defined in the context of the following eight domains: community support and health services; outdoor spaces and buildings; housing; transportation; social participation; respect and social inclusion; civic participation and employment; and community and information. In short, livability encourages individuals to engage in community life, stay healthy, and continue doing things they value.

The Age Friendly Arlington project has begun the process of identifying what makes Arlington a great place to live and plans on using this data to develop a plan to make it even better for aging residents.

Additionally, residents should make sure to let your leaders know what you think. For example, the Arlington Commission on Aging wants to know residents’ opinions about how livable Arlington is for them personally. Residents may communicate their experiences by participating in an online survey. The survey is an excellent way for residents to weigh in with their thoughts on growing Arlington to ensure it is a place where residents of all ages have options for living, recreation, community engagement and employment.

Make Smart Choices About Your Home

When looking for a new home or improving your current residence, universal design is a very helpful tool. Sometimes we think that the size of our home and the number of stair steps inside are unimportant until we need to use a walker or wheelchair. The reality is that we can fall at any age and be off our feet for weeks. We may be challenged when trying to access a bathroom located on a different level from the living room, for example.

Universal design represents smart living for all ages. The Commission on Aging produced a video demonstrating several examples of the benefits of this design principle for aging residents, and a brochure on smart design choices in homes for older residents is available from Arlington County.

Be Active

The benefits of physical fitness, social engagement and brain health have been widely recognized. Keeping active is not just about completing a marathon. Life may be easier following a smart and steady strategy of the exercise you enjoy best.

In Arlington, there are a wide variety of happenings and activities to experience. You can meet friends and make new connections in a number of places, from your local coffee shop to the library. Also, people age 55 and older may find more activities through programs and activities sponsored by Arlington County.

The bottom line is that life is constantly evolving. And there is no one size fits all solution for us to tackle the issues of aging and everything that life brings our way. Living in Arlington works for those who desire a community that is inclusive of every age and welcomes aging in place.
Being informed of your resources, being smart about your home, and being active are excellent ways to successfully navigate life and keep moving forward.

Martha Villanigro-Santiago is an attorney, advocate for the aging, the owner of Aging and Moving Forward, LLC, and a caregiver. She is a member of the Arlington Commission on Aging and has been living in Arlington for over eight years.

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