NH Alliance for Healthy Aging: A Collective Approach to Supporting Older Adults
November 3, 2021
--By Jennifer Rabalais, MA, Co-Director, Center on Aging and Community Living (CACL)
The NH Alliance for Healthy Aging (NHAHA) brings together partners working in the field and those who are passionate about supporting older adults – including older adults themselves. They are working together to create communities across New Hampshire that are great places for all of us to live as we age. Our collective approach is to change the conversation about aging across all sectors of the community, change public policy to promote a strong, stable infrastructure for aging, and change practice across public and private sectors to improve care and support for older adults, their families and their communities. AHA is increasingly gaining visibility among policymakers, journalists, advocates, municipalities, caregivers, and older adults who call the Granite State their home.
Expanding Our Network to the Nontraditional
Our original focus was to bring together the fragmented system in New Hampshire and to create a shared vision for healthy aging in our state. Now that we've gained some maturity as an organization and helped weave a powerful network, our focus now shifts to pulling in nontraditional partners whose work is aligned with ours. In addition to partnering with entities like the Commission on Aging, the Department of Health and Human Services Division of Long-term Services and Supports and the Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services, we’re also working with planning commissions and municipalities across the state to create age-friendly communities.
When we think about the World Health Organization’s model for Age Friendly Communities, we see that there are many places in New Hampshire striving to meet all or part of those important criteria. Sixteen New Hampshire communities are listed in the AARP Livable Communities Map. Additionally, at least three regional planning commissions (Southern New Hampshire, Strafford Regional and Southwestern Regional) are leading age-friendly work in their communities. There are also smaller, less formalized efforts towards creating age-friendly communities, all aimed at making New Hampshire a great place to grow up and grow older.
The Language We Use and Why It Matters
We’re also expanding our message to a widening circle of the public, while raising awareness and reframing the way we talk about and think about aging. As we get older, we have wisdom and resources to share with our communities. Many older people are retiring later or going back into the workforce, offering skills and training to younger generations coming up through the ranks. And when we think about our volunteer driver programs, a good majority of those drivers are older people. Think of the spending power of the Baby Boomer generation. All these factors remind us that older adults are a strong part of what makes a vibrant place to live.
And yet, we still face ageism in our society – prejudice or discrimination on the grounds of a person’s age. A recent article in New Hampshire Magazine focused on ageism, and sought to shift the narrative to focus on the value that older adults bring to our communities and to our economy.
We certainly have seen a spike in ageism throughout the pandemic. The discourse made it seem as if older people were the only population with significant vulnerability to COVID. That is something that we have worked to address by holding up these stereotypes and talking about them. In reality, we are all aging. The language we use and the systems we create affect us all. For those individuals supporting older people, having well-framed language helps us to discuss the benefits that older people offer to society in a way that we can all understand and internalize.
From Crisis to Innovation
The pandemic certainly created more isolation and loneliness, yet our partners showed amazing flexibility and resilience. Communities and providers have found creative ways to support older people, many of whom could not leave their homes. Providers grappled with a new reality and found innovative ways to serve older adults. Food pantries teamed up with local restaurants to use excess fresh produce and get that into the community where it was needed. We saw mobile food pantries arriving in communities and transportation programs working to get people to vaccine appointments. It took something really big to get us, as a society, to step out of that box and make some dramatic shifts that will now likely become the new and better way of doing things.
AHA has formed several committees aimed at achieving our strategic priorities. Their work moves us toward developing an advocacy infrastructure, improving the workforce availability for quality healthcare and social services, enhancing support for family caregivers, increasing transportation options and advancing zoning changes to promote affordable and accessible housing options.
For example, our caregiving group partners closely with AARP to give public presentations to communities, business leaders and employers to promote caregiver-friendly employment practices. They’re also reaching out to medical providers and local libraries to disseminate information that will help family caregivers realize the crucial role they play and to get support.
Another example of progress can be seen in the work of the transportation committee which prioritized the volunteer driver programs around the state and the creation of a peer-to-peer network. This network oversees driver recruitment and allows program coordinators and leaders to share their challenges, elevate needs and learn from each other.
In all our work, we are intently focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion, while at the same time, aligning with the advocacy team and bringing all the strategic priority work together.
Health, Independence and Dignity
In all that the NH Alliance for Healthy Aging does, we remain true to our mission: To create communities in New Hampshire that advance culture, policies and services which support older adults and their families, providing a wide range of choices that advance health, independence and dignity.
We invite you to join us in this important healthy aging movement because we all deserve to live in a state where our talents and experiences are valued at every stage of life. To learn more and to get involved, visit https://nhaha.info/