Keeping seniors like these active and involved in the community is the goal of a new aging-in-place initiative in Freeport. Courtesy / Freeport Community Services

FREEPORT —A community needs assessment conducted two years ago showed the critical needs of local seniors weren’t being met, especially when it came to transportation and opportunities to socialize.

The study, conducted by South Portland-based Planning Decisions, also showed that Freeport and Pownal were set to see a 40% increase in the number of households with someone age 65 or older by 2020.

The findings prompted Freeport Community Services to start a new aging-in-place initiative that includes forming a steering committee and an action plan that will take into account what seniors “really need to age with dignity and continued independence,” said Paula Paladino, the community services director.

Among the key priorities, Paladino said, are improving transportation options, helping seniors stay physically safe, and more outlets for socialization.

All of these issues have “a significant impact on the well being of older adults,” she added.

Relatively simple interventions can help seniors remain independent, according to Freeport Town Councilor Tawni Whitney. Courtesy / Freeport Community Services

The Planning Decisions study, which took place in 2016, projected there would be a total of about 1,300 households in Freeport and Pownal with a resident age 65 or older by next year.

The study also indicated of those 65 and older, just over 23% have problems getting around and a significant number are living alone.

Town Councilor Tawni Whitney, a member of the aging-in-place steering committee, said this week that it’s important for Freeport to begin addressing the issues faced by seniors because “often a relatively simple intervention can result in a significant impact on their ability to age more gracefully and safely.”

“Ultimately the success of this effort will rest upon the interest in the community to put these initiatives into practice,” she said.

The steering committee next meets at 8 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, at Freeport Community Services, 53 Depot St. Anyone who would like to attend should RSVP by calling 865-3985.

The steering committee is conducting a series of focus groups to determine what residents think the priorities ought to be, Paladino said this week, and looking for people who have the time, talent and interest to volunteer for specific programs. Those could include transportation services, minor home repairs, and addressing the social isolation often felt by seniors.

Paladino said action items that came out of an aging retreat held last week include a sand bucket program to prevent falls, and a guide to local services, such as the food pantry and the medical loan closet.

Freeport Elders Association is one of the only organizations in Freeport and Pownal that offers events and activities specifically designed for seniors, according to Paladino, although community services does offer workshops that focus on issues such as maintaining balance and information about Medicaid.

Paladino said community services already offers a limited transportation service, but a successful grant application would mean the funding to hire a part-time coordinator to help expand transportation options.

Becoming a certified age-friendly community through AARP this past spring opened up the possibilities for a number of grants, Paladino said, including from AARP itself. For example, she said community services recently received a $3,000 grant from AARP to hire a consultant to help create an aging-in-place action plan.

Paladino said the goal is to have at least a rough draft of the action plan completed by the end of the year. Then community services would shop the plan around to various civic organizations and municipal boards and commissions, including the Town Council, to get input.

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