BATH — The results of a survey of residents by Age-Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec are eye-opening, and sometimes sad.

Sixty percent of those who responded expect they will have to modify their home in order to stay. Many worry about whether they’ll even have enough funds to sustain their home, and are concerned about losing their independence.

But these results also present opportunities, group member and Bath City Councilor Phyllis Bailey said in an interview. For instance, people could use information on resources that would help them remain at home and give them more opportunities to interact with others; Bailey’s group would like to help.

The group, which has been meeting about a year and a half and focuses on Bath, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Phippsburg, West Bath and Woolwich, issued its Livable Community Assessment Survey last November. Open through February, the questionnaire drew about 1,000 responses from residents between the ages of 14 and 94.

Two-thirds of respondents were older than 60, with another large chunk in their 50s and dwindling numbers below that. Those younger than 60 often answered the questions from the perspective of a caregiver of a family friend or parent.

“Livability” is about making practical improvements that can impact the health and quality of life of older people, Bailey explained. “And it’s also coming from thinking about older adults in terms of all the things that contribute to well being; not just being a bunch of body parts,” she added.

The group found three themes around that concept based on the survey results: homes, mobility and social connections.

“We were really impressed by how strongly people feel about remaining in this area,” Bailey said.

The survey did reveal several strengths about greater Bath: 80% felt they could ask family, friends and neighbors for help. Another 58% talk regularly with friends about what’s happening in their lives.

Many lauded a sense of safety in the area, and a love for their local libraries, Bailey said.

She called older adults “a significant community asset,” noting “they make a big economic contribution, they are very civically engaged, and they’re heavy on volunteerism. So they’re pretty key to the quality of life.”

Many respondents preferred neighborhoods with a mix of ages. “People really like having younger neighbors with kids around,” Bailey said, noting that the survey showed that age-segregated housing was not appealing.

“And 78% said that interacting with people of all ages was important,” she noted. “And yet only 23% saw it … as something they could access consistently. They were even asking for mixed-age playgrounds and recreational opportunities.”

One older woman told Bailey that she lives in the Huse School Apartments, and loves that children are around her.

Sixty percent said they would need to modify their homes in order to age in place, and 82% suggested that a resource list of those who can do that work, such as installing grab bars in bathrooms, would be helpful.

Another 19% did not have family or friends who could help. “So this may be an opportunity,” Bailey said.

Her group will spend the summer organizing the data from the survey and focus groups, and aims by this fall to have a written report of the findings.

“Because people are asking for this data,” she said. “We also want to give towns the opportunity to get a picture of their own issues.”

Sixteen percent reported their homes are not warm enough, which 62% attributed to insulation and weatherization issues. Another 45% had difficulty paying for heating fuel.

“We’re trying to pay attention to what are the barriers that could keep people from staying in their homes,” Bailey said.

Bath Housing’s Comfortably Home program offers free services to people who are 60 and older or have a disability, live within a radius of about 15 miles of Bath, own their home or live in a house a family member owns, and meet certain income guidelines. More information is available at bathhousing.org/aging-in-place/comfortably-home.

Once the report is complete, the all-volunteer group plans to establish priorities to improve senior livability. For instance, having heard from local emergency medical technicians about how many times they respond to calls for people who have fallen, the group is looking into a 2-1-1 card specifically for elder resources.

“I think sharpening access to information is an important thing we might end up doing,” Bailey said.

Of roughly 300 communities in the U.S. working on age-friendly initiatives, 20 percent are in Maine, she noted.

“I think it’s because we’re practical, we’re frugal, and we care about our neighbors,” Bailey explained. “We know how to get things done.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 780-9085 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Phyllis Bailey of Bath is a member of the Age-Friendly Communities of the Lower Kennebec group, which this fall will release a report on its recent senior livability survey.

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