The most-used term in our household in recent months has been "age-friendly." We apply it to everything we do. Or think about doing.
For instance, if we were to think about building a new house, we would want it to be ... yes, age-friendly. Are the electrical outlets placed higher than typically found in most houses? Are there a lot of them? Are the light switches lower than usual so that if one of us ends up in a wheelchair we could easily reach them? Does every door, including those going into the house from the outside, have a levered door handle? Are there no-step thresholds and an open floor plan and an abundance of light?
We think about "age-friendly" when we are out and about, too. When we choose a restaurant for dinner, we want a low noise threshold for our fading hearing and lots of light above the table so we can see the menus. Those restaurants that have their food selections printed in almost-unreadable, 8-point type are incredibly frustrating — no matter how delicious the food. I think eating establishments might want to consider having little flashlights or magnifiers at their tables. Or, how about this, restaurants will train wait staffs to speak slowly and clearly.
When I see a waiter or waitress crouch down face-to-face with an elder who is placing an order, respectfully answering the inevitable questions, I am tempted to give them a tip just for making that effort.
There was a well-written editorial about this topic in the Dallas Morning News a few weeks ago titled "Aging-in-Place Becomes the New Norm." It recognized something we have been collectively reluctant to embrace. The foundation statement was this: "We are on the precipice of redefining aging in America." It emphatically stated, if we do not think about issues more constantly and more thoughtfully in the context of "active aging," we do so at our own peril.
Locally, the concept is taking deeper root. On Jan. 9, Rogue Valley Community Cable Television, located on the Southern Oregon University campus will launch a series called "Age-Friendly Rogue Valley." AARP Oregon is sponsoring the monthly, hour-long program (second Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. on channels 9 and 14, with a Web link available), but it's definitely a community collaboration. Rogue Valley Council of Governments' Senior and Disability Services is front and center, and United Way is involved. Kudos to all.
In the interests of full disclosure, I have to point out that the television program will be hosted each month by my husband. He is new to the party in thinking actively about aging well, but once he got it, he has been unswerving in his desire to ask the right questions, find good answers and make an impact.
I suppose I could tell you I taught him everything he knows, but that would not be true. See for yourself.
Sharon Johnson is a retired Oregon State University associate professor emeritus. Reach her at Sharon@hmj.com.