Date: October 1st, 2007
It is no secret that America’s population is aging at a rapid rate. As the Baby Boomers grow older, the United States will be faced with a daunting demographic shift: by 2030, it is estimated that persons over the age of 65 will represent 20% of the population of the United States, some 71.5 million Americans.
Despite these figures, America as a whole remains unprepared to accommodate its aging population. As the number of older Americans continues to increase, many communities are unprepared to meet the demands of their older residents. Cities and towns across the country lack the programs and infrastructure necessary to provide appropriate and integrated services. Fortunately, a “blueprint” has been produced, providing communities with practical solutions to address problem areas.
The vast majority of Americans want to “age in place”— staying in their homes and communities as long as possible. However, a recent survey of 10,000 local governments found that less than half (46 percent) were “aging-ready.” The survey, commissioned by the Maturing of America coalition, a group of five national aging and community-planning organizations, found that although most communities have some programs to address the needs of older adults, few have undertaken comprehensive assessments as a first step to make their communities “elder friendly” and livable for all ages. The needs of older adults are often interrelated. For example, addressing housing needs will not be sufficient if residents lack transportation to get to the doctor, pharmacy or grocery store. Such interdependent needs may call for a new, holistic approach to service delivery, which is lacking in many communities.
The Blueprint: Practical Solutions
In response to the Maturing of America coalition’s survey, a “blueprint” has been created to help American communities meet the needs of their elderly citizens. A Blueprint for Action: Developing a Livable Community for All Ages, developed by the MetLife Foundation, the Partners for Livable Communities, and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, offers tools, resources and best practices to foster partnerships and strategies to create aging-friendly communities. The blueprint addresses key challenges in housing, planning and zoning, transportation, health and supportive services, public safety, civic engagement, culture and lifelong learning.
The Blueprint encourages communities to assemble teams of public and private leaders to assess a community’s aging readiness and then to develop an action plan.
The Blueprint addresses the need for older citizens to have access to quality health care in order to both address and prevent health care problems. It recommends creating a single point of entry for information about local services, integrating home-based services, supporting health promotion activities such as farmers’ markets, exercise programs and preventive health screenings and improving access to medical transportation. Furthermore, it recognizes the need to support informal caregivers.
Developing a Livable Community for All Ages
As outlined in the Maturing of America coalition’s study, America is ill-prepared to meet the demands of its aging population. Many communities are already unable to support their elderly, and as the number of older citizens continues to rise, problems will only become more glaring. Fortunately, communities can begin to prepare for the future by utilizing the recommendations and resources included in the Blueprint. The Alliance for Aging Research encourages local communities to embrace the Blueprint as a useful tool which can guide them in taking the necessary steps to become “elder friendly” and a livable community for all ages.