Like many American cities, Rockville, Maryland, is beginning to feel the shifting tides of demographics as more residents reach retirement age and live well into their senior years. In the 2010 Census, 26 percent of the population was between the ages of 45 and 64, with 14 percent over 65. Following current trends in aging and migration, by 2020, Rockville expects to see its over-65 population increase by 100 percent.
Leaders in this prosperous, diverse suburb of Washington, DC, examined their already significant investment in services for senior citizens, and realized it was time to adapt and expand services for the future.
What the City Offers vs. What Residents Need
To understand Rockville’s needs, we collected information from residents through a web-based survey, focus groups, and a series of stakeholder interviews. We also conducted an inventory of existing senior services in the city—ranging from health and social service organizations, to organizations offering non-clinical services such as transportation, advocacy, and recreation.
The residents and other stakeholders described four main obstacles that prevent some Rockville seniors from using senior services:
- Financial constraints
- Transportation difficulties
- Language barriers
- Lack of awareness of services.
Some of the results defied stereotypes. For example, while the public might expect seniors with the lowest incomes to need the most help, that is not always the case, because these individuals often qualify for and receive free services. Instead, middle-income seniors—those with homes and enough money for basic expenses—often have trouble meeting unexpected costs or covering needs beyond the basics.
Also, based on the conventional wisdom that older adults are free during the day, many senior programs operate weekdays between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. This traditional schedule creates a barrier for the increasing proportion of seniors who continue to work. We found that evening programs could attract an eager audience.
We also identified a positive opportunity that has already gained support in Rockville. The Villages movement is a national, grassroots, volunteer effort to connect people with services in their communities. The concept had widespread enthusiasm among the people in our focus groups, with some already active in villages of their own. Villages are thought to benefit both seniors and municipalities by reaching the isolated and homebound, assisting older adults with aging in place, and promoting a stronger sense of community.
Building a Vibrant Community for Seniors
After we presented our report to the Rockville City Council in April 2016, the city decided on two immediate actions:
- The Recreation and Parks department hired a village coordinator, and started publishing a senior-specific seasonal program guide to highlight activities for seniors.
- To reach populations that haven’t participated in the past, the department is having printed materials translated, looking to hire multilingual instructors, and developing a contact list of homebound seniors.
These steps target a lack of awareness, one of the main barriers we identified, and Rockville’s desire to reach homebound seniors. These actions further demonstrate Rockville’s ongoing commitment to meet the needs of its senior population.
Promoting the Village concept and aging in place involves reaching out to the broader community. Some of Rockville’s strategies include promoting volunteer opportunities, educating businesses on the benefits of hiring older workers, and expanding ride programs and bus transit.
Rockville is one of the first cities to benefit from our ability to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment and gap analysis of senior services. Because so many other cities and towns face the same demographic trends—along with unique, individual challenges—we hope they will not be the last.