How Communities Can Prepare for the Growing Aging Population
Since January 2011 — when the first group of baby boomers began turning 65 — the nation’s aging population has increased at a high rate. By 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65, and one in five Americans will be retirement age. Within two decades, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that older adults will outnumber children for the first time in U.S. history.
As the older adult population continues to grow, communities are critically examining the needs of their residents. The World Health Organization (WHO) published a global guide to age-friendly cities (PDF, 1.6 MB), and it highlights features that these communities should consider for their aging populations.
Dr. Kelly Ylitalo, assistant professor at Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences, said that although WHO’s recommendations are important for baby boomers, they appeal to more than just older adults.
“Aging-friendly communities allow people of all ages and abilities to participate in all facets of society and encourage civic and social engagement,” Ylitalo said.
Ylitalo has examined behaviors that could facilitate healthy aging trajectories and researched performance-based physical functioning, including how long it takes women in their 40s and 50s to cross safely during a crosswalk signal compared to the time they need 15 years later.
“One of the most important things I learned was that healthy aging has to be approached from a life-course perspective,” she said. “Changes in physical functioning are really important for the aging process and play a role in functional abilities much earlier in the life than most of the existing research suggests.”
10 Age-Friendly Communities
Hundreds of municipalities across the U.S. have joined AARP and WHO’s network of communities helping the growing aging population. Here are 10 member communities, their latest population stats, and examples of what is included in their age-friendly action plans
Percentage of population 65+ years old
San Antonio, Texas (PDF, 22.1 MB)
1,511,946 | 11.6%
Educate residents about pedestrian-friendly venues and offer nutritional education and testing to reduce the cases of diabetes.
Fort Worth, Texas (PDF, 36.1 MB)
874,168 | 9.3%
Increase park accessibility and develop affordable housing.
Seattle, Washington (PDF, 9.7 MB)
724,745 | 12.1%
Increase public awareness of affordability programs, including the state Property Tax Exemption Program and Utility Discount Program, and engage faith- and community-based organizations in disaster preparedness trainings for older adults.
Denver, Colorado (PDF, 1.6 MB)
704,621 | 11.2%
Engage more older adults in the workforce by promoting the benefits and making a case for their employment among businesses.
Minneapolis, Minnesota (PDF, 1.1 MB)
422,331 | 9.2%
Connect caregivers to affordable resources, especially those related to dementia and for older drivers; use wider and/or reflective pavement markings; post street name signs overhead; and improve sign visibility with bigger signs with larger font.
Englewood, New Jersey (PDF, 149 KB)
29,112 | 15.5%
Promote the broad range of accessible and affordable fitness activities and distribute refrigerator magnets with pocket to contain critical personal/medical information to 1,000 older adult residents of Englewood.
Carlsbad, New Mexico (PDF, 532 KB)
28,774 | 13.5%
Make all public parks, toilets, and buildings ADA compliant and develop the city transit system to be more convenient, accessible, and affordable.
Auburn Hills, Michigan
23,296 | 11%
Implement more intergenerational programs by identifying the demand for such programs, marketing the events, recruiting volunteers, and establishing an exchange program through which members can trade services instead of having to pay for them.
Kennebunk, Maine (PDF, 427 KB)
11,380 | 28.1%
Sausalito, California (PDF, 9.2 MB)
7,141 | 27%
1. “AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities: The Member List,” AARP, Updated Feb. 1, 2019. Accessed Feb., 19, 2019. www.aarp.org/livable-communities/network-age-friendly-communities/info-2014/member-list.html
2. “WHO Global Network for Age-friendly Cities and Communities,” World Health Organization. Accessed Feb. 20, 2019. www.who.int/ageing/projects/age_friendly_cities_network
3. “QuickFacts: United States,” United States Census Bureau, July 1, 2018. Accessed Feb. 19, 2019. www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US
WHO describes active aging as the process of benefitting from opportunities for health, participation, and security. But getting older adults to move to a different community, even if it is more age-inclusive, isn’t always an easy proposition. In a home and community preferences survey by AARP (PDF, 1.6 MB), 76 percent of people age 50 and older said they would like to stay in their current residences for as long as possible.
Older residents may have to evaluate the benefits of their current communities and determine if those benefits meet their needs. Are their hometowns considering older adults as they add commercial and residential buildings, parking lots, public transportation stations, recreation centers, and medical facilities?
How to Make Communities More Inclusive
WHO describes active aging as the process of benefitting from opportunities for health, participation, and security to enhance the quality of life as people grow older. Policies, services, and structures help people age actively by recognizing their potential contributions, lifestyle choices, and needs.
WHO’s guide emphasizes eight areas that will help residents, governments, businesses, and citizens’ groups know what is necessary to make a community age-friendly. Below is a list of Ylitalo’s recommendations for communities to improve shared spaces.
Outdoor spaces and buildings.
Lack of sidewalks or broken and cracked pathways can be dangerous for midlife and older adults who are at higher risk of falling. Consider pedestrian-friendly walkways, safe traffic environments, and accessible public restrooms and elevators.
Being accessible means that people can participate, either via cost or proximity. Needs include public transportation stations that are accessible to people with disabilities, legible guides, and refresher driving courses.
As people age and retire, fixed incomes influence housing options for aging in place. Ensure affordability, basic services (water, electricity, sanitation, heat), maintenance, housing options, and safety.
Older adults are at risk of social isolation, which could affect their mental and physical health. Encourage activities and engagement (e.g., walking clubs, senior centers), proactive invitations to events, and integrating generations whenever possible.
Respect and social inclusion.
Older adults provide many important perspectives and pass on traditions. Consider positive portrayals of older people, engaging older residents in community discourse, and offering activities that involve them.
Civic participation and employment.
When older adults are engaged, it prevents social isolation and allows others to interact with them in a respectful way. Develop volunteering options and employment opportunities and encourage older people to participate in meetings, advisory councils, and boards of organizations.
Communication and information.
Older adults need to know what services are available and should get safety warnings about weather or health dangers. Ensure older people are receiving community notices by word of mouth, radio, and in writing; for informational handouts, consider age-friendly fonts, formats, and designs.
Community support and health services.
Senior citizens who have unique health service needs benefit from providers who are familiar with comorbidities and issues that can arise with polypharmacy.
Citation for this content: The MPH online program from Baylor University’s Robbins College of Health and Human Sciences.