Can you name five of your neighbors? If you can, you stand a good chance of living longer than people who can’t. That is especially true for many Americans as they age. Older adults live longer when they are connected to their community and have meaningful opportunities to contribute. Those are just a few of the insights offered during Age of Connections, the first-ever hybrid conference on creating age-friendly communities hosted by Age-Friendly Arizona . The conference featured 13 different workshops. Topics included the importance of connections between the built environment and transportation, technology for better rural ridership, end-of-life planning, volunteering, and more. Staff from the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) worked with partner organizations in Age Friendly Arizona to plan the day-long event. Members of the planning team included AARP AZ, Benevilla, MAG, Northern Arizona Council of Governments, Tucson Elder Alliance, VICAP, and the Vitalyst Health Foundation. Their work allowed about 200 people to attend workshops and join panel discussions on how access to transportation transforms people’s lives, and lessons on connectivity learned from the COVID pandemic. Additional topics revolved around helping families dealing with dementia. That topic is of special interest to Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, whose community of Phoenix has been designated “dementia-friendly.” Being age-friendly and dementia-friendly means, we support older adults in connecting with the help they need to have a good quality of life. Kate Gallego Phoenix Mayor “Being age-friendly and dementia-friendly means, we support older adults in connecting with the help they need to have a good quality of life,” said Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “While dementia can inflict some very personal challenges, the best solutions come from communities working together. Coordination is key.” Between 2015 and 2050, the number of people 60 years or older will double. Cities can help older people live longer, healthier lives by adapting to meet the needs of an older population. Keynote speaker Zachary Benedict has dedicated his career as an architect to creating age-friendly neighborhoods that bring people together. “When you elevate the quality of life for one demographic, you tend to elevate the quality of life for others,” Benedict told the audience of more than 100 during his keynote address. We spend all this energy, all this social capital, trying to live independently, and then come back later and spend billions of dollars trying to reconnect with each other. Zachary Benedict MKM architecture + design “We spend all this energy, all this social capital, trying to live independently, and then come back later and spend billions of dollars trying to reconnect with each other,” he said. Benedict noted the link between social activities and their importance in creating a healthy population: Participation in social groups like (bowling, boy scouts, VFW) peaked in the 1960S… and has been declining ever since. At the same time, we were building communities that made it more cumbersome to participate in these activities. While that was happening (the decline), we saw a rise in chronic disease in America (obesity, heart disease, teenage suicide) “Not only are we aging, but we are also living more disconnected lives,” said Benedict. Something critical to community development in terms of social capital and social development is trying to understand the balance between two types of relationships. Bonded relationships are intimate and include family, friends, and neighbors. Bridge relationships are not as strong but give people more opportunities to expand their own communities. “We need each other. More than we care to admit most of the time” Benedict said, “and if we are talking about connectivity, I think we need to do it in the context of health.” Benedict’s work can be thought of as much more than architecture. He sees creating connections as crucial to our well-being. “If community is the smallest unit of health, how do we define that in a real way? We need access to one another. We need to understand the most important thing for this is connection to the world around us, but most importantly to each other.” To learn more about what it takes to create Age-Friendly Communities, as well as presentations on transportation, neighbors helping neighbors, dementia care, wellness, volunteering in our golden years, and end-of-life planning, log on to Age Friendly Arizona (agefriendlyaz.org) The conference was offered free of charge thanks to sponsorships from AARP AZ, the Veterans’ Donations Fund of Arizona Department of Veterans’ Services, SCAN Desert Health Plan, Vitalyst Health Foundation, and The Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation. Age Friendly Arizona is a statewide, multidisciplinary partnership hosted by the Maricopa Association of Governments, and is made possible thanks to the support of partners and communities who work together to improve the lives of older adults.