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Communities are making policy and environmental changes that will help adults “age in place,” allowing people to live in their current homes even as they face mobility challenges associated with growing older. According to the Milken Institute’s Best Cities for Successful Aging Index, 90% of adults want to age in place, remaining healthy, active and engaged. The index ranks US cities based on indicators for wellness, transportation and living arrangements, among other important indicators. Among the large metro areas, Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue ranks highly, while Bellingham ranks well among small metro areas.
City planners can set guidelines in the comprehensive plans that contribute to wellness and access to transportation, helping elders stay in their communities. Planning efforts can include sidewalk improvements, on-demand cross-walks, and other walk-ability initiatives. The Washington State Plan on Aging (pdf) calls for “building infrastructure for aging friendly communities, and aging friendly public policies so that individuals can remain actively integrated members of their community.” The plan lists as a highlight the home and community based services that have permitted people to choose living at home over living in care facilities. The state plan is integrated with the Older Americans Act, the federal initiative last revised in 2006 that provides comprehensive services to older adults. The Act sets up support via the Administration on Aging to states and tribes to help maintain older adults’ independence.
According to a 2011 survey with Washington cities, the City of Arlington adopted a comprehensive plan that “provides for the development of small-scale mixed-use neighborhood villages as a means of promoting a sense of community, encouraging pedestrian/bicycle mobility, and reducing the number and length of motorized shopping trips.” In fact, the Arlington Comprehensive Plan Vision Statement outlines goals for transportation, housing and cultural features that allow citizens to live a “full life.” Access to public transportation is important for non-drivers, but especially for aging people who need care for chronic conditions. City investment in public/senior transportation is one of the key indicators in the Milken index.
Another key element supporting aging in place is safety, or the perception of safety. Aging adults feel safer in places where public areas are clean and well lit, and where seating and restrooms are well-maintained. The same types of projects that support Safe Routes to School initiatives also permit older adults reduce or stop driving. Increasing safety for children in neighborhoods and on city streets supports aging in place. See also the article about the “8/80 Rule” in this issue.
Featured: September 2012
James Kissee, Physical Activity Specialist, WA State Department of Health, 360-236-362