Portrait of the Urban Senior: The Unique Benefits and Challenges of Aging in the City

city seniorsCity seniors are a unique breed. Many don’t drive because they’re accustomed to walking everywhere they need to go, and they have come to expect that the people they love will never be more than a bus or train ride away.

But because of the transient nature of cities themselves, life changes dramatically as urban seniors age. Friends and family move away to find a more affordable life in the suburbs, and seniors can’t get around as well as they once did. How can city seniors cope with the changes?

Senior Transportation Services

Fortunately, options are available for city seniors who never learned to drive and now can’t manage walking and navigating their way through public transportation as before.

“Some cities have paratransit services, which are public — yet more tailored — options for people living with disabilities,” says Laura Hahn, a gerontologist who writes about intergenerational friendship on her blog, Arthur & Bernie.

In New York City, for example, the Department for the Aging funds community-based transportation programs like Access-A-Ride, which can help seniors as well as those with reduced mobility.

Senior centers are another terrific resource for urban seniors, particularly in NYC.

“Many senior centers provide shopping and recreational bus trips or cultural outings that enable aging New Yorkers to continue enjoying the amenities that make NYC great,” says Amealya Blake, a registered nurse with the Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY), the nation’s largest not-for-profit home- and community-based health care organization.

For those who need more help getting around, licensed home care agencies like Partners in Care, an affiliate of VNSNY, can provide home health aides to accompany seniors on outings such as medical appointments, grocery shopping, and religious or social functions.

Age-Friendly Cities and Programs

Of course, some cities are more age-friendly than others, featuring programs designed specifically with seniors in mind.

“Many cities are awesome places to age,” says Hahn. “Urban areas typically have first-class health care options and a variety of social services for older adults and all generations.”

Major cities typically boast a wealth of parks, museums, and performing arts centers, some with special ticket rates and programs that cater to older participants, says Hahn. The Alzheimer’s Project of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art, which makes art accessible to people with dementia, is one such program.

In addition, religious facilities and community organizations offer a variety of in-home and location-based programs for city seniors.

“Many have robust outreach programs that provide transportation for seniors so they can continue to participate in and contribute to events and programs that bring value to their lives,” says Blake. “And senior centers provide meals, recreation, and cognitively stimulating programming that helps people engage with others in meaningful ways.”

To see how your city ranks in age-friendliness, take a look at AARP’s Livability Index, which reveals how different communities across the country rank overall and by categories like housing, transportation, environment, and civic engagement. You can also check out the U.S. Administration on Aging’s Eldercare Locator to learn about the specific services and programs offered in your community.

Senior Friends and Family

Despite the many benefits of aging in the city, urban life is especially challenging when the majority of your friends and family move away.

“Families are often spread out these days, and it can be tricky for older people, as well as younger parents and their kids,” says Hahn. “Technology is improving our ability to stay connected, though.”

She says video chat services like FaceTime, Skype, and Viber helped her stay in touch with family as well as her 90-year-old friend Arthur when she was living overseas.

But even if you’re not tech-savvy, it’s important to stay connected to the people you love as well as the city you live in, says Blake.

“Writing an email or letter to a friend, sharing a recipe, asking someone for advice, calling someone who’s been in the hospital, even offering a smile to a stranger can make us feel more engaged in life and foster a sense of well-being.”

CHIME IN: In your experience, what are the biggest benefits and challenges of aging in the city?

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5 comments on “Portrait of the Urban Senior: The Unique Benefits and Challenges of Aging in the City
  1. Carol Marak says:

    My thought, as long as I can walk: it’s a lot easier to age in an urban location than suburban or rural!! Think about it. Families move around no matter what – whether you live urban or rural. The thing is.. it’s easier to adapt when living urban. I’m 64 and I’ve done both and prefer urban. It was much easier on me, fun lifestyle, and rarely isolated. Suburban on the other hand, can increase isolation and loneliness.

  2. Darlene keller says:

    Live in country. Lonely here. Family call live in different parts of U S. Both in bad health. Hubbyvis 75. We have pets

    • Darlene keller says:

      Want to be around family more but hubby doesn’t says too much drama

      • Robyn Tellefsen says:

        Darlene, I’m sorry to hear about the loneliness and the health problems, but glad to hear that you and your husband have each other and your pets. If your husband doesn’t want to spend time with family, maybe you could plan a few trips on your own (with the help of family members) so you can stay connected. My grandfather was a homebody who didn’t like to travel but my grandmother was a social butterfly, so she would taken frequent road trips to visit friends and family on her own. I hope you can find a way to connect with others to keep the loneliness at bay.

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