Aging and Disability Services (ADS) has made a lot of progress since 2016 when the City of Seattle first joined the global age-friendly movement. Embracing this framework has helped us recognize and address the intersectionality of issues facing older adults and collaborate across government, public, and private sectors.
One such intersection is between health, housing, emergency preparedness, and climate change. Older adults are especially vulnerable to the changing weather King County has experienced in recent years. Many live in homes that lack adequate heating or cooling systems, and age puts people at increased risk for adverse effects from extreme temperatures. For example, extended heat can lead to dehydration, which contributes to falls and poor decision making, and older adults are more susceptible to cold because of decreased fat under the skin and other health conditions common with age.
Nationally, there is increasing recognition of the need to incorporate an age-friendly lens into public health systems. This was underscored during the COVID-19 pandemic, when older adults were among those most vulnerable and in need of prioritization for vaccines and other resources. Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), in partnership with The John A. Hartford Foundation, has developed a framework for creating age-friendly public health systems that involve strong intergovernmental partnership. This framework emphasizes connecting and convening multi-sector stakeholders, as well as coordinating and complementing efforts.
TFAH has worked with the Washington State Department of Health to encourage Area Agencies on Aging across the state to partner with local health jurisdictions to enhance age-friendly public health systems. In King County, Aging and Disability Services has teamed up with Age Friendly Seattle and the King County Department of Community and Human Services to further our collective understanding of existing community resources that can support older adults in the case of extreme weather. Collaboratively, we developed a questionnaire for 51 senior centers around King County to assess each site’s readiness to serve older adults in weather-related emergencies. With this information, we intend to:
- Communicate findings to King County and City of Seattle, creating a shared understanding of operational capacity across the region.
- Gain clarity on current resource gaps.
- Support senior centers in their emergency preparedness efforts to address both cold weather and warm weather sheltering.
We know full well the importance of addressing the needs of those most at risk during power grid failure, power outage, inclement weather, and other storm impacts as we have seen the challenges that older adults face during prolonged heat events in King County and elsewhere.
We continue to explore future opportunities to address the needs of Seattle’s aging population intentionally and holistically through ongoing collaboration with our county and state partners.
Contributors Mary Pat O’Leary, RN, BSN, a senior planner in Seattle Human Services’ Aging and Disability Services division, and Dinah Stephens, Age Friendly program manager, extend their appreciation to staff at Trust for America’s Health and the John A. Hartford Foundation; Marci Getz, Washington State Department of Health; and Esther Lee, King County Department of Community and Human Services, for their collaboration.
Personal Preparedness Planning
Read about winterization in this issue of AgeWise, plus these articles from the past two years:
- Preparing for Stormy Months Ahead (November 2022)
- Utility Bills: We Can Help You Get Current and Stay Current (November 2022)
- Strengthening Community Connections in Falls Prevention (September 2022)
- Feeling the Heat? Maybe It’s Your Medication. (July 2022)
- Planning for Extreme Heat … in June? (June 2022)
- Plan for Home Fire Safety (March 2022)
- How to Prevent Slips, Trips, Stumbles, and Falls (September 2021)
- Wildfire Season is Coming—Get Smoke Ready! (July 2021)
- COVID-19 Essentials: An At-Home Emergency Care Kit (January 2021)