LET’S DO AGE-FRIENDLY
We’ve discovered an emerging trend, an aging in place alternative to those elegant and expensive 55+ active adult resort style communities springing up across the country. Those are, of course, a uniquely capitalistic (sometimes nonprofit) approach to the changing needs of aging but active residents with adequate resources.
Would it surprise you to learn there are other approaches to the problem? We looked for alternatives to the notion that once of a certain age one must go somewhere else or be someone else. Instead of evacuating and leaving homes they have known for years, some seniors advocate for making local changes that will accommodate their needs as well as allow for continued healthy interaction with family, friends and resources. And some communities are listening.
Urban planners, civil engineers and builders have good reason to listen to these consumers and respond to their needs in positive ways. Although the great recession (2008 +) has slowed the anticipated retirement of the baby boomer generation, these are now hovering over their mid-60s and seriously planning to enjoy their “golden” years with as much gusto and impact on their habitat as they had impact on socio-economic changes of the last quarter century. Large constituencies expected to leave the local tax base must be a vivid nightmare for city and state planners. Will there be another sort of post industrial age migration to ??
Well that is a question, isn’t it?
“Shelter in place” for aging citizens
One style of response to meeting the specific needs of an aging population that would very much prefer to “shelter in place”, or continue living in their own homes and community for as long as possible is becoming a movement of its own. There is an age-friendly cities and communities movement gathering momentum. The World Health Organization (WHO) is one of the agencies providing a platform for information exchange and open discussions for reshaping urban environments to more easily nurture multi-generational living. It’s called The Age Friendly World with it’s own information exchange “The WHO Global Network of Age-friendly Cities and Communities” Age-Friendly global network. This may seem a back to the future kind of adventure, but nevertheless, it is a movement gaining strength. With the same spirit that brought change when this surge of population reached other gateway years (21, 30, 50 etc.) they are asking “exactly what is it I’m too old for at 65?
Beginning in 2010, the WHO built a network to connect cities, communities and organizations with a vision of enabling a positive experience in growing old. This is a novel and much appreciated concept as we are all going there one way or another. Local activities promote full participation of seniors in their communities, preferably the ones they’ve known and lived in for years perhaps even building along the way. As in its other programs, the WHO promotes healthy and active ageing. The global network is becoming a platform for information exchange, support and examination of lessons learned. Membership expresses commitment but it is not a certification of age-friendliness. Rather, it reflects cities’ commitment to listen to the needs of their ageing population “working collaboratively with older people and across sectors to create accessible physical environments, inclusive social environments, and an enabling service infrastructure.” What a refreshing idea.
Let’s see if there are any results yet. Well, participation might be a metric. There are 287 communities in 33 countries participating voluntarily and those represent about 113 million people. The website has a searchable data base of advocates, participating communities and agencies and other members Age-Friendly communities. The data base makes obvious the type of organization or community, the population represented and the percentage of that population that is already over 60. This level of display makes it pretty clear why the interest in these demographics is steadily rising and why there is greater participation. Some communities are already showing 35% or more of their population as over 60. Sustainability has been an issue in environmental and preparedness planning for some time. To drive seniors out of their comfort zone habitats is simply not sustainable for healthy communities. But preventing a serious migration means significant changes in response to changing demand. Large percentages of the population cannot be driven away without eventual damage to the community infrastructure and culture. Even if such demographic sinkhole was not intuitive, preventing the anticipated economic and cultural damage is a challenging problem. Is it really desirable or feasible that those people leave?
Ageing is a demographic wave that is going to transform the way we live for better or worse. We certainly have the power to make change happen. As a matter of fact, it’s likely we won’t be able to prevent change in this regard, so we need to make certain the change brings social and economic improvement. Enabling seniors to live long and prosper in healthy and independent ways returns the investment to communities that plan appropriately. The return on investment (ROI) is continued benefit to the community from productive contributions of its elders. Social isolation or alienation is recognized as one of the primary catalysts of anger, anxiety and general helplessness, all negative factors in healthy, vibrant communities. Multi-generational residents from different backgrounds and demographics interact regularly. This facilitates community integration. A highly integrated social structure within the community provides more support to all age groups and becomes very difficult to damage or deconstruct. Multi-generational, age-friendly, communities would thus be more sustainable and resilient in the face of any disaster whether natural or man-made. These concepts may be borrowed from the world of disaster preparedness but certainly are applicable.
As with most movements that have found adequate sponsorship, there is also a WHO searchable global database of best practices recommended for communities desiring to participate in the exchange of ideas. This database offers glimpses into what seems to be working from communities around the world. Offerings range from transportation to entertainment to health to housing and back again.
Search the world for the best practices at your fingertips at Age-Friendly best practices.
The programs and tools are contributed by members and no metrics but their own are applied to determine effectiveness. Other resources are also offered on the WHO website. Find a variety of tools, assessments, guides, published evaluation reports, research updates and strategic plans in Age-Friendly community tools and guides.
Along with the movement to make it easier to age in place without leaving one’s preferred community is an emerging, however loosely organized, attempt to facilitate or coordinate continuing productivity from seniors. No doubt easily recognized is encouragement to volunteer if one has retired or “been downsized” or has for other reasons abandoned the job search. Oddly enough, a worker who costs too much or is otherwise unemployable at 55+ is in high demand as a volunteer at 65+ if he or she will only remain healthy and fit. AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) frequently provides information on the best employers for people over 50. Tips on finding gainful employment in employment zone. As an advocacy group, AARP tackles numerous age-related issues from hunger to housing to isolation and income. This is one of the organizations listed in the WHO global network as well. It has been promoting livable communities and inter-generational activity for many years.
The American Planning Association (APA) published an annotated bibliography for aging in place on its website, see Age-Friendly planning annotated bibliography . Planners, urban developers and researchers can find numerous articles and plans for improving local communities and services for an aging population in Age-Friendly planning resources. According to Deborah Howe, (on the APA website) baby boomers “will swell the ranks of those aged 65-plus from 34.8 million in 2000 to a projected 70.3 million in 2030, ultimately representing 20 percent of the U.S. population.” Both the APA Knowledge Center and Blog are great places to start exploring the concept of Age-Friendly communities.
If you, someone you love or perhaps a member of your extended family is pondering what comes next, be assured there are alternatives. There are many factors to consider such as health and mobility, activities and hobbies, desire for employment (paid or volunteer), close to family and friends and, not least, willingness to pack it all up and move. Not all of the available alternatives are really affordable yet and but not all of them are really fancy resorts either. We haven’t decided what the best alternative is ……but we’re working on it.
Are you starting the search for a different environment? Do you feel forced of your community? Have you found ways to improve your quality of life without moving out of your home? Is your neighborhood still nurturing? Have you found cost-effective ways to downsize and start over? Love to hear from you.