October 8, 2011

USA: Aging happily in "Age-Friendly" Santa Clara county

SAN JOSE, California / Mercury News / Breaking News / October 8, 2011
By Kristen Marschall, Daily News Staff Writer
With the highest concentration of seniors in Santa Clara County, Los Altos and Los Altos Hills thought it was time to make it official.


After receiving the OK from their respective councils, the cities have submitted a joint application to Geneva, Switzerland, to be recognized as "age-friendly" by the World Health Organization.

The title doesn't come easily. Since the program began in 2005, New York City and Portland are among the few cities in the nation dubbed "age-friendly." Los Altos and Los Altos Hills would be the first in California.

For Karen Jenney, chair of the Los Altos Senior Commission, it was an easy decision to go for it.

As first, the relatively new commission mailed out questionnaires to about 4,500 residents older than 55 in both cities, asking what concerns them as they age.

The commission received more than 1,000 responses and compiled a list of comments that totaled 100 pages. Their top concern -- and one that also ranks high among seniors worldwide -- turned out to be transportation, Jenney said.

"The Peninsula, we're car-driven here. We don't really have a network of buses that goes into neighborhoods," Jenney said. "(Seniors) would like to go to the senior center and take part in classes, but if you can't get there, it's not going to happen. You can sort of see where it chips away at your independence."

If the two cities are deemed by the World Health Organization to be "age-friendly," thecommission will be expected to go to work right away on projects that benefit seniors. Jenney said some changes must be implemented within five years.

Possible projects include improving street lighting and adjusting traffic lights to allow more time for crossing the road, Jenney said. The commission estimated about $8,000 would be needed, and at the Los Altos City Council's request it will prioritize improvements based on costs and community impact.

June Cademartori, 87, from left, Arvid Hamer, 90, Muriel Perkins, 94, and Fred Wellmerling, 91, sit outside of the dining hall of The Terraces, a Los Altos retirement community, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are sending applications to the World Health Organization in Geneva to be considered age-friendly cities. If approved, the two cities would be the first in California to have the designation.
(Kirstina Sangsahachart/ Daily News)

Among the many Los Altos residents who chose to stay in the community as they age is 94-year-old Muriel Perkins, who with her husband moved to the area in 1941 when homes were cheaper and schools abounded. When it came time to choose a retirement community, she said her husband had a carton box of options from San Jose to San Mateo, but they opted to move to The Terraces at Los Altos.

Established in 1949 as Pilgrim Haven, the retirement community is home to 73 people in independent living, 14 in assisted living and about 50 in skilled nursing, executive director Rae Holt said.

The community is about to build additional units and a memory support center to accommodate those with dementia and Alzheimer's disease, which Holt said will make The Terraces the only retirement community in the area to have such a facility.

Residents must be at least 62 but most are around 85, Holt said, noting than many come from the Los Altos and Palo Alto area.

Arvid Hamer, 90, smiles outside of the dining hall of The Terraces, a Los Altos retirement community, on Friday, Oct. 7, 2011. Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are sending applications to the World Health Organization in Geneva to be considered age-friendly cities. If approved, the two cities would be the first in California to have the designation.
(Kirstina Sangsahachart/ Daily News)

Arvid Hamer, 90, is a second-generation resident, following in the footsteps of his mother, who lived there in 1963. There was no question about where he and his wife would go when the time came, in 2003, Hamer said.

"I'd been here a couple of weeks and I said, 'What am I doing with all these old people?' And then I realized I'm one of them," Hamer said.

Kristen Marschall 
E-Mail: kmarschall@dailynewsgroup.com.

Copyright © 2011 - San Jose Mercury News


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