SOUTH PORTLAND — At 77, Sue Henderson still goes cross-country skiing “very carefully,” and walks her dog every day. As a city councilor who lives in a close-knit neighborhood in Knightville, she’s also still active in the community and has people she can rely on when she needs a helping hand.

But that’s not the case for everyone her age, which is why the city made it a priority to task a special committee with ensuring that South Portland is age-friendly, allowing more people to stay in their homes and part of the community as they get older.

“There are really so many things communities can do to make the lives of seniors safer, more comfortable and higher quality,” Henderson said. The challenge, she added, is that there’s a wide range of needs but not a lot of infrastructure currently in place to meet them.

The committee meets monthly and is eager to hear from residents about their wants and needs, Chad MacLeod, who is co-chairman of the committee alongside Maxine Beecher, said. The next meeting will be held at 5 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 8, in the lower level conference room at City Hall. To contact the committee email to [email protected].

From housing to transportation to having someone change the battery in their smoke alarms, seniors in South Portland and across the state need more help from their communities to allow them to remain independent, according to a 2018 report from the Maine Council on Aging.

The mission of Age Friendly South Portland, according to MacLeod, is to “facilitate community collaboration to create a city that supports and empowers residents as they age.”

South Portland also recently became an AARP-certified age-friendly community, joining more than 70 communities across the state, which means the local group can now draw from multiple resources on best practices and launching programs that work for today’s seniors, MacLeod said Tuesday.

Programs already in place include the new senior sand bucket initiative, which allows older residents to request a bucket of sand from Public Works to help prevent falls on slippery stairs and walkways during the winter.

At 28, MacLeod may be an odd choice to lead a committee focused on helping people age well, but with a background in healthcare and a passion for policymaking, he believes he can provide key expertise and organizational support to the group.

Henderson, who is also a member of Age Friendly South Portland, said this week that while the focus of the group is on easing the burdens of aging, anything the city does to help its oldest residents can also make a difference to people of all ages, from making it safer to cross the street to providing easier access to public open spaces and buildings.

She also said that while there are a number of resources already available to seniors in South Portland, “it’s a matter of getting people plugged in and accessing” those opportunities. That’s partly where Henderson sees the age-friendly committee making a key difference.

Overall, she said, the goal is to ensure older people get the support they need, whether it’s something as simple as making sure they’ve taken their medication to providing safe, reliable transportation.

Both Henderson and MacLeod said the work of Age Friendly South Portland is critical because by 2025 over a quarter of Maine’s population will be 65 or older, according to figures provided by the Maine Council on Aging.

“In order for us all to be able to age at home and in community settings, we need to build a strong, person-centered, cost-effective infrastructure …” the 2018 report says. “The difference is whether we stay healthy and engaged in community life, or experience avoidable health problems and are forced to use more expensive services such as hospitals, assisted living and nursing home care.”

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