Past studies have shown that nearly one-quarter of people aged 65 and older are considered socially isolated. We believe these numbers have likely been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. This means that we, as a community, need to keep the spotlight on improving the quality of life for older adults by keeping them independent and actively engaged.
Older adults matter to the City of Renton! One of our Recreation Division’s key initiatives is to deliver and develop quality programs and services to our underserved populations, which include our Black, Hispanic, and Vietnamese older adults and older Veterans. The Recreation Division operates and programs the Renton Senior Activity Center and has proactively begun the process of “bridging the isolation divide” in a several ways. Our work is made possible in part by funding from King County’s Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy.
A qualitative study funded by a UW Population Health Initiative validated the same findings we found as we spoke to non-English speaking elders in our community. We concluded that older minority and immigrant adults are at greater risk for loneliness, due both to language barriers and to fear of contracting COVID.
We invested time to listen and learn from more than 550 older people in Renton. This is what we heard that they want:
- To receive information that is “technologically friendly.”
- To access quick resource links without going down a “rabbit hole.”
- To learn basic computer skills like navigating the Web and downloading apps.
- To engage with others.
FitLot Outdoor Fitness Park
Studies show that isolation can lead to physical inactivity. Renton had the good fortune to be selected as a beneficiary of AARP’s mission to plan, build, and program one outdoor fitness park in every state. In summer 2021, Renton welcomed its first participants at an AARP-sponsored outdoor fitness park called FitLot.
This couldn’t have come at a better time for older people who said they needed to stay active and alert, especially during pandemic times. Renton’s FitLot Park made it possible for certified fitness professionals to offer free one-hour circuit training workout classes designed for all ages and abilities to access. Since its inception, 18 classes have been offered and more than 150 people have participated. Free classes will start up again in spring and summer 2022. When not led by instructors, individuals can use the outdoor fitness equipment at their own pace.
Renton’s FitLot Park is located at North Highlands Community Center (3000 NE 16th St, Renton, WA 98056). Class schedules and registration information are available here.
Age-friendly initiatives help to reduce social isolation by ensuring people can age with dignity and remain actively engaged in their communities. In 2020, the City of Renton applied for and was accepted into the WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities and the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities. Next to Seattle, Renton is the second city in King County to earn “age-friendly” recognition from AARP and WHO, and one of five cities with the age-friendly designation in Washington state.
By joining this network, the City of Renton and community partners have committed to a five-year process that includes, but is not limited to, assessing age-friendliness and making improvements to housing, transportation, and public walkways. A draft action plan is in review and plans for implementing age-friendly programs and resources for older adults in Renton are underway.
These are just several ways that we are getting ahead of the curve and “bridging the isolation divide” in Renton, Washington, so that our older people in our population can remain independent and active and thrive for as long as possible.
So, what ways are your community engaging to help “bridge the isolation gap” for older people?
Contributors Amy Eng and Carrie Nass serve as Senior Outreach and Engagement Specialist and Recreation Division Director with the City of Renton.
Much of the City of Renton’s work on behalf of older adults is made possible in part by funding from King County’s Veterans, Seniors, and Human Services Levy (VSHSL). The VSHSL Advisory Board includes representatives from the Seattle-King County Advisory Council on Aging & Disability Services, which publishes AgeWise King County. Learn more about the levy here. See information about upcoming VSHSL Community Conversations in this issue of AgeWise.