Magazine article Policy & Practice

Creating Communities That Support Healthy Aging

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Creating Communities That Support Healthy Aging

Article excerpt

January 1, 2011:

The day the "baby boomers" began turning 65. It marked the symbolic beginning of the greatest demographic shift in our nation's history--a shift that will see one of every five Americans being 65 years of age or older by January 1, 2030.

The dramatic aging of our population will be one of America's greatest challenges of the 21st century. For some of us Policy & practice readers, the aging of America already is part of our everyday word of thought a planning, and as been for some time. For others, it may have, so far, played only an incidental, or peripheral, role in your daily responsibilities.

But--please believe me--the aging of our population is a phenomenon that will profoundly affect all sectors of our society. Everyone who is privileged to be in a position to make a difference will be tasked with an important role in dealing with it. And when historians years from now look back at our time and at what we did, one of their primary points of measurement will be how we met this great challenge.

A key component of meeting the challenge will be our nation's communities successfully adapting to accommodate their aging residents by making changes in infrastructure and services that will benefit all age groups. If community leaders have a range of information, tools, successful strategies, and best practices available to assist them at the outset, the task will be easier and less costly. AARP is committed to being a primary go-to resource. Here are some key points everyone needs to know.

Point 1:

There is no escape! The aging of America is happening everywhere.

By 2030, just 17 years from now, when the last of the baby boomers turns 65, the 65 and older population will have doubled from what it is today--to more than 70 million. Today, the nation's "oldest" city is Scottsdale, Arizona, where one of every five residents is 65 or older. In 2030, one of every five residents of the entire United States will be 65 or older.

All 50 states will see a rapid acceleration in the growth of their 65 and older populations. By 2030, ten states will actually have more 65 and older residents than school-age children. That's never happened before in our nation's history--in even one state. Utah is projected to be our "youngest" state in 2030, yet their 65 and older population will still have nearly doubled.

Point 2:

Too many of our communities are just not prepared for their aging populations.

A report several years ago by the International City/County Management Association documented that less than half of our country's jurisdictions were prepared for the aging of their residents. Clearly, there have been pockets of encouraging innovation and experimentation. The approach to date in too many communities and states has been one of "let's wait and see." We just can't afford any longer to play the "wait and see" game.

Point 3:

Forget about the old myths concerning aging in America.

Supporting "wait and see" has been a pervasive string of myths. Let's start with the myth that suggests the cherished dream of most Americans nearing retirement is to pack up and retire in Florida, or Arizona, or some other place with palm trees. The fact is, this may be true for some, but not for the vast majority.

Since 1990, roughly 90 percent of older Americans have stayed in the same county they've lived in during their working years--most in the very same home. And we expect this to continue. AARP's research on the topic has found repeatedly that more than eight of every ten boomers want to remain in their current home or community during retirement. The number one reason is the desire to stay close to their families.

Another myth suggests that preparing a community to retain older residents will make it less attractive to younger residents. Not true! I can't stress this enough: This isn't an "old versus young" issue. …

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