Broadband in Aging and Age Friendly Communities

Facts are facts: Maine is the ‘oldest’ state in the country with a median age of 44.21.  This trend will likely continue over the next few years, and that has important implications for Maine’s infrastructure and economy.  On Friday, March 25th, local government leaders will gather to discuss the approach communities are taking to transform what it means to grow old in Maine at the Maine Municipal Association’s Statewide Manager Interchange.  OTELCO is proud to sponsor and participate in this important discussion with a discussion of the role of broadband in aging.

Maine Age GraphInterestingly, one of the most important tools to assist those who wish to age in place is the same tool that is likely to reverse the trend and encourage a younger demographic to locate in Maine: Access to Fast, Reliable Internet. Given the theme for Interchange 2016, OTELCO will focus its part of the conversation on the benefits of broadband in aging and for the disabled.

Quality of Life

Without question, quality of life is enhanced with reliable Internet access.  Whether for communication via email, video chatting, and even social networking, the Internet can help keep our aging population engaged with family, friends and hobbies.  The Internet puts just about every form of entertainment at this population’s fingertips and provides access to continuing education via distance learning options.

The current retirement age in Maine is 642.  As the median age trends up, it’s safe to assume that the retirement age will also.  Telecommuting is a growing trend among young workers, and is becoming more and more appealing to the older workforce – particularly those who choose semi-retirement, or to relocate for quality of place reasons.  Maine is one of those quality places, and the ability to telecommute over a quality Internet connection adds to the appeal.

Independent Living

Independent living means different things to different people.  For an elderly person who has reduced or given up driving, independence is access to things that you’d otherwise need a vehicle for: activities such as shopping, visiting the library, and access health care come to mind here.

Thanks to the Internet, people can shop on-line for everything from groceries to Christmas trees.  Library books can be reserved or extended, and eBooks can be downloaded.  Advances in telemedicine allow for monitoring vital signs and other home medical electronics, and with video chat, patients can have face to face consultation with care providers.

Senior man talking on phone and using tablet, sitting at desk at home. Modern technology, communication conceptAging in Place

Roles are reversing as many of find themselves caring for aging parents.  With many working to a later age, daily care of aging parents can be a challenge.  Cloud based home automation products can relieve some of that burden where Internet connectivity is sufficient.  The old “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” panic button is just the tip of the iceberg.  Fall detectors that will alert you if a loved one can’t press the panic button; sensors that monitor their daily activities; medicine dispensers that not only remind the person to take the meds, but alert you if they don’t; and 2-way audio cameras that allow for real time communication, are all commonplace, easy to use, and above all, affordable.

Developing an Age Friendly Community Strategy

Although there is an important role for broadband in aging, there are many other steps that municipalities can take.  Accessible transportation, pedestrian friendly walkways, community outreach, programs such as Meals on Wheels, various social services, and enrichment programs geared toward senior citizens are all elements of Age Friendly Communities.

As municipalities become more engaged with the concept of age friendliness, it is important to approach the challenge logically.  Collaborating with surrounding communities to develop regional programs for the aging can save money and human resources.  Similarly, as municipalities consider the benefits of Broadband in aging and elsewhere, working with area providers to assess existing network infrastructure is an important first step toward developing goals and, should the community vision dictate the need for an expansion of the network, a logical implementation plan.

Download OTELCO's Free Municipal Broadband Guide