During their November 6 meeting, the City Council was presented with valuable information by Kristi Denton Cohen, who serves as Mill Valley's Representative on the Marin County Commission on Aging. To kick off her presentation, she shared some significant statistics:
- Approximately 33% of Marin's population is aged 60 or older, which accounts for one-third of the County's residents.
- Social Security serves as the primary source of income for 63% of individuals aged 65 to 74 and 82% of those over 75, dispelling the notion that Marin is as affluent as many believe.
- A quarter of older adults in Marin face food insecurity, and many of them dine in isolation, which poses a substantial health risk.
- In Mill Valley, 46% of households include one or more residents over 60.
- Roughly 25% of individuals over 65 in Mill Valley have a disability, and this figure may be underestimated.
- One in four residents in Mill Valley, who are over 60, find independent living challenging.
Subsequently, she shared information about the Commission on Aging and highlighted some critical initiatives:
The Commission, which operates under the federal mandate of the Older Americans Act, is closely examining the challenges that communities are currently grappling with. Commissioners bear the responsibility of advocating for and educating others about ways to enhance the experience of aging. The Commission holds a monthly general meeting, along with five different committee meetings, and welcomes community members to participate in any of these gatherings.
She reported that several Commissioners attended the Aging Action Initiative meeting in September, where the keynote speaker, Jenny Olsen, CEO of the Roslyn Carter Institute of Caregivers, emphasized the need to pay more attention to caregiving as a public health issue. One reason is the difficulty in finding affordable and qualified assistance, with one woman reporting that she would spend more time caring for her parents than they did for her when she was a child.
“I hope we can find ways to help ease this burden in our community,” Commissioner Denton Cohen said. “Taking care of those who need the care is important, but so is taking care of the caregivers.”
She shared her recent assignment to the Commission on Aging’s Planning Committee. They have been working on the Four-Year Needs Assessment Plan for the County's Area Agency on Aging, expected to be released in early 2024. She also mentioned her involvement in an Ad Hoc committee tasked with crafting a Fact Sheet for towns and cities. This Fact Sheet aims to clarify the role of Commissioners, the time commitments involved, the application requirements, and more. Furthermore, they intend to extend application periods to encourage greater participation.
Commissioner Denton Cohen informed the Council that she has been designated as the Commission's representative on the Volunteer Organization for Active Disasters. This national organization comprises local and regional chapters across the country, including one in Marin. It serves as a coalition that brings together public agencies, the private sector, nonprofit organizations, and churches to collaborate on disaster response efforts, thereby preventing duplication of efforts and reducing confusion that can arise when everyone operates independently.
In addition to her report, Commissioner Denton Cohen shared some insights on ageism, noting its prevalence not only in the local community but also in many other places.
“It may not be deliberate, but it can be implicit,” she said. “Maybe it’s just a patronizing tone we use or something we do that makes the other person feel invisible. Many of us have personally experienced some form of it and many of us have probably done that.”
She continued, “As more and more of us age, it seems like it might be a good time to change how we think about it aging.”
Commissioner Denton Cohen expanded on her report by sharing some important perspectives on aging and agism based on the work of Dr. Fernando Torres Gil, the Director of the UCLA Center for Policy Research on Aging. Dr. Torres Gil advocates for a holistic perspective that considers entire lifespans to combat ageist stereotypes, regardless of whether someone is young, old, or in between. She emphasized that individuals do not need to be trapped by age-related biases that many carry with them throughout their lives, and ageism affects people of all ages.
Furthermore, she encouraged the City to participate in the international movement initiated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish Age-Friendly communities. An Age-Friendly town is characterized by inclusivity, accessibility, and the promotion of active aging, ultimately creating a city that caters to the needs of individuals of all ages and abilities.
While Mill Valley took initial steps in this direction in 2017 by applying to become age-friendly, bureaucratic obstacles hindered progress at that time. She highlighted that AARP, as an independent affiliate of WHO, is now handling the application process, making it more straightforward.
Marin County has also adopted an age-friendly policy, and many of the towns in the area have already embraced the Age-Friendly movement, with the exception of Mill Valley and Novato.
Commissioner Denton Cohen noted that Councilmember Caroline Joachim reached out to her a couple of months ago regarding Mill Valley's potential involvement in the Age-Friendly initiative. They subsequently met with Sara Robinson, the Chair of Age-Friendly Marin, who authored "Age Forward: A Framework for an Age-Friendly County of Marin."
“I have to say, it was a pretty stimulating meeting,” she said. “We talked about how we have so many great things going on here that make Mill Valley Age-Friendly already: a very active Recreation Department, the Library, Mill Valley Village to name just a few.”
She closed her remarks by sharing that although there is some work to do, there are some exciting times ahead and she will share more about Mill Valley Age-Friendly in the months to come.
Councilmembers expressed their gratitude to Commissioner Denton Cohen for her presentation. "We have the right person for the job," Mayor Urban Carmel commented, acknowledging Commissioner Denton Cohen's excellent presentation and extending a welcome for her future updates.
“We are going to make the Age-Friendly designation a priority,” he continued. “It will probably also include some improvements that we need to make for our elderly community, which is really valuable.”
Councilmember Caroline Joachim shared that the impetus for her work on issues of aging stemmed from her volunteer work with Marin Villages and her recent CERT training.
“I was concerned about what happens in a disaster for those that are most vulnerable in our community,” she said. “We can be a better community and be more inclusive for all our community members.” She pointed out that the Age-Friendly designation would enable the City to establish a framework for increased collaboration throughout Marin, ultimately resulting in a more effective provision of services for those in need.
Watch the presentation.