Three-year effort produces Age- and Dementia-Friendly Action Plan for county

By MARY BYRNE

Staff Writer

Published: 11-17-2023 9:49 AM

GREENFIELD — Residents from across the county gathered at the John W. Olver Transit Center on Thursday to celebrate the three years of work that led to the launch of the region’s new Age- and Dementia-Friendly Action Plan.

“This is your plan,” Franklin Regional Council of Governments Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker told attendees. “This is not a plan that is going to be implemented by one entity.”

The Age and Dementia-Friendly Communities project, an initiative LifePath started in partnership with FRCOG, seeks to improve the region’s systems and infrastructure to allow older adults and seniors to remain in their homes.

The plan began in 2020 with LifePath and FRCOG staff approaching each municipality in the region about taking part in the initiative. As of this summer, 27 of 30 communities in Franklin County and the North Quabbin region have joined, according to LifePath Director of Community Services Lynne Feldman. In fall 2021, a survey was distributed and in the following year, focus groups were formed for older adults who identify as LGBTQ, low-income or live in subsidized housing.

The three-year endeavor resulted in an action plan that identified numerous goals and actions to reach them, with suggested time frames.

James Fuccione, executive director of Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative, said the process of making communities more age- and dementia-friendly is often tougher for small towns.

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“There’s just such a collaborative spirit out here,” Fuccione said of the regional approach coordinated by FRCOG and LifePath. “They’re going to do some great things with this plan.”

Meg Ryan, a regional public health nurse with FRCOG, said the intent is to make the county a “more inclusive” place. That could mean improving curb cuts to increase accessibility or providing education on how to engage with a person who has dementia — the short of which is to “meet the person where they are.”

Some of the actions identified include minimizing municipal barriers, such as encouraging zoning that supports accessory dwelling units; increasing knowledge of public transportation options while also increasing the number of neighbor-to-neighbor transportation options; and creating partnerships between older adults and youth to reduce isolation. Improving access to digital literacy programs and encouraging local newsletters to improve communication were also identified as goals within the plan.

A few people spoke to existing programs that already aim to address some of the goals highlighted in the Age- and Dementia-Friendly Action Plan, including Leyden’s FactBook, which provides information relevant to the older population in town; the Neighbors network that provides volunteer support to help seniors age in place; and the Memory Cafe, a monthly gathering of individuals with memory loss and their care partners.

“I’m so thrilled to see all of these projects taking off,” said Feldman.

Fuccione said he was proud to have been part of the plan created by the people of Franklin County. With the plan, he said, the region joins a network of 230 communities across the state.

“This is the fun part,” he said. “While it’s a challenge to implement … this will be the fun part.”

Reporter Mary Byrne can be reached at mbyrne@recorder.com or 413-930-4429. Twitter: @MaryEByrne.