AFS Blog

Age-friendly lessons from Salamanca, Spain

Posted on August 06, 2015 | by Laurey Stryker
Age-friendly lessons from Salamanca, Spain

This summer, Charlie and I spent a month in Salamanca, Spain -- a medieval city of more than 250,000 in the metropolitan area located two hours northwest of Madrid.  We went to improve our Spanish and learn more about the culture.

Early in my visit, I saw that Salamanca was truly an "age-friendly" city. With Sarasota’s goal to be recognized as a comfort-zone for people in their second or third acts, I watched more closely to learn from the “charros” (what locals call themselves). What I saw revolved around mobility and social connections.    Not surprisingly, these issues mirror our own community opinions.

The physical mobility of the many “jubilados,” retirees who comprise nearly 50 percent of the population, is striking. You see seniors on their feet perhaps some with canes, but no electric wheelchairs! You see the oldest folks on the arms of sons and daughters but still standing on their own two feet. They keep their legs and balance.

It made me think that we need more incentives that keep people upright and less of a rush to wheelchair safety. That would take more emphasis on physical therapy and rehab within the health reimbursement systems. I speak from personal experience when my mother retreated to a wheelchair after several falls. I wish now that we had fought harder through therapy before giving up. But only a certain number of PT visits were covered and the wheelchair and expensive motion lift chairs were paid 100% by Medicare and supplemental insurance.

Mass transit also builds on personal mobility. In Salamanca, buses are frequent with both intra and intercity routes. They were outfitted for seniors and clearly seen as safe travel. Bus stops had shelters or at least a bench with shade.

Social connections were part of the streetscape. Think seating and shade within 50 yards of each other. Dozens of seniors sat in the parks, chatting and watching the street bustle. Where are these places in Sarasota? I should report here that Salamanca is very cold in winter and in the 90’s summer. There is no Sarasota breeze and it’s hilly.

The good news is that we have “the bones” to increase our mobility and social connections. Sarasota County has mini communities from Venice, Sarasota, Lakewood Ranch and the dozens of gated communities dotted throughout the area. What improvements could be made to increase mobility and social connections within these areas? Are there some best practices that developers, neighborhoods, and governments could share? What would it take for mass transportation to make “no driver’s license” less of a liability for local seniors?

photo credit: _BRK0567 via photopin (license)


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