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Tuesday, 8th January 2008

The Maturing of America -- Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population

The Maturing of America -- Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population
Source: National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, in partnership with the International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and Partners for Livable Communities (via Smart Growth Resource Library)

The vast majority of older Americans want to age in their homes and communities for as long as possible. However, the aging of the population will pose new challenges for the delivery of local services such as health care, recreation, housing, transportation, public safety, employment and education. While these services assist a broad segment of the population, they also have a major impact on the quality of life of older Americans. The aging of America will also present opportunities as the nation's communities realize the largest population of educated and skilled older adults in its history. To help cities and counties better meet the needs of their aging population, and to harness the experience and talent of their older citizens, five national organizations joined forces to identify ways to prepare for the aging of this population. Known as The Maturing of America -- Getting Communities on Track for an Aging Population, the project is being led by the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, in partnership with the International City/County Management Association, National Association of Counties, National League of Cities and Partners for Livable Communities. The initiative is funded by a grant from MetLife Foundation. In the project’s first phase, Maturing of America partners surveyed 10,000 local governments to:

  • determine their ''aging readiness'' to provide programs, policies and services that address the needs of older adults and their caregivers;
  • to ensure that their communities are ''livable'' for persons of all ages; and
  • to harness the talent, wisdom and experience of older adults to contribute to the community at large.

The survey found that only 46 percent of American communities have begun to address the needs of the rapidly increasing aging population. The survey results show that although many communities have some programs to address the needs of older adults, few have undertaken a comprehensive assessment to make their communities ''elder friendly'' or livable communities for all ages.

Survey findings indicate that local governments generally offer basic health and nutrition programs, but as yet do not have the policies, programs or services in place to promote the quality of life and the ability of older adults to live independently and contribute to their communities for as long as possible. These services might include job retraining, flextime and other job accommodations; home chore services, home modification and senior-friendly housing options, tax relief, roadway redesign or public transportation assistance as well as volunteer opportunities targeted to older adults.

The needs of older adults are often interrelated. For example, providing housing will not be sufficient if residents lack transportation to get to basic services such as medical offices, the pharmacy or grocery store. These interdependent needs of older adults may require a completely new comprehensive, holistic approach to service delivery organization and management. American’s communities need to take a fresh look at their existing policies, programs and services to see if they address the needs of an aging population. Those communities who have already begun to test their ''aging readiness'' are now reaching out to their older citizens to engage them in discussions about what changes to local government services may be needed to enhance their quality of life and ensure that they can grow old successfully in the community.

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