Report highlights needs for Dartmouth's aging population

By Douglas McCulloch | May 27, 2018

Newly released data is giving more insight into the needs of Dartmouth’s seniors, who want to stay in their own homes and in Dartmouth as the town works to develop an age-friendly community initiative.

In January, the town, Council on Aging, and University of Massachusetts Dartmouth’s nursing students launched an extensive survey to better understand the needs of the 55-and-over population, while university nursing students also worked on a demographics report and research into current town offerings and needs. The results identified better health services, more social opportunities, housing, and transportation as the top needs.

It’s part of an effort to become part of an AARP and World Health Organization program which creates standards for cities and towns to make communities better prepared for the growing aging population. The organizations have identified eight key “domains of livability” that, if implemented successfully, allow community members to “age in place” where they live.

As of 2018, 10,524 of Dartmouth’s 31,365 residents are age 55 or over, representing 36 percent of the town population. The largest contingent of residents in this group are in voting precinct 8, which covers Padanaram, at 1,973 residents. There are 25 residents over the age of 100 in town.

As part of the data collection process, university nursing students conducted random informal interviews with 119 residents throughout the community. Residents were asked if the town is well-developed, community strengths and weaknesses, and major issues facing the community.

Those that said Dartmouth is well-developed highlighted the town’s school system, family friendliness, recreational offerings, and Council on Aging programs. Those who said no cited the town’s development suited mostly for young families, no community center for activities of all ages, lack of elderly services, and elderly isolation.

Respondents gave a variety of strengths and weaknesses. In strengths, fire departments, community preservation, diverse land use, conservation, the Council on Aging, and commitment to renewable energy were some of the highlights. In negatives, lack of public transportation, few police patrols in rural areas, long commutes, and elder social isolation were some of the identified issues.

The largest issue identified is the lack of public transportation by 27 percent of respondents. The second highest issue was congested high traffic areas at 16 percent, and 14 percent cited a need for increased safety like street lights, crosswalks, signage, and emergency response times.

Nursing students also collected extensive data on physical, social, and health issues affecting the town and its residents. They examined everything from what the town offers in safety and housing to health needs and services in town.

Among health data: more older Dartmouth residents have four or more chronic conditions than the state average, 66.3 percent compared to the 61.5 percent respectively. Dartmouth elders rank comparably to the state average in various health issues.

With the data from both the survey and university nursing students, a steering committee is tasked with overseeing the development of an age-friendly development plan.

In social participation, suggestions for the plan include establishing a town partnership with the three homecare agencies in town, which nursing students felt were poorly advertised. In transportation, students suggested looking into the availability of grant funding to increase the availability of transit to and from social programs. The town could establish a partnership with the university to offer age-friendly social programming.

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