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Public Health and Age-Friendly Communities

There are a variety of ways state and local public health departments can partner with members of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities

Women walking outdoors, AARP Livable Communites, Public Health

Ariel Skelley/Blend Images via Getty Images

Having access to safe outdoor spaces helps people of all ages stay healthy.

The aging of the U.S. population is one of the greatest challenges facing our society.

People age 65 and older represented 12.9 percent of the population in the year 2000 but are expected to grow to 19 percent of the population (72.1 million) by 2030. This demographic shift has widespread implications that will impact families, businesses, government, social services, public health, health care and the community at large.

AARP Livable Communities Newsletter

As America’s population ages, it is becoming increasingly important for cities and communities to adapt to the needs of older adults. Making cities and communities age-friendly is one of the most effective responses to this demographic shift and prepares for the aging of subsequent generations. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an age-friendly community is one in which services, settings, structures and policies support and enable older adults — and people with varying needs and capacities — to remain healthy, active and engaged. Also important is a commitment to creating physical and social environments that promote healthy aging and a positive quality of life for older citizens.

illustration, Main Street, AARP Livable Communities, Age-friendly network

Getty Images

A livable community is a healthy community.

AARP Network of Age-friendly Communities

AARP’s age-friendly network helps promote well-designed, livable communities for people of all ages by working with communities throughout the U.S. to adopt safe, walkable streets; improve housing and transportation options; increase accessibility to key services and enhance opportunities for residents to participate in community activities.

The AARP program is focused on fostering health and sustaining economic growth in communities. To become a member of the network, a community must commit to a multiphase process of (1) planning, (2) implementation and evaluation and (3) a continual improvement of its age-friendly commitment through ongoing monitoring and evaluation.

The age-friendly initiative targets eight key domains that influence the health and quality of life of older adults. These “livability” domains are:  (1) outdoor spaces and buildings, (2) transportation, (3) housing, (4) social participation, (5) respect and social inclusion, (6) civic participation and employment, (7) communication and information and (8) community support and health services.

Opportunities And Benefits For Public Health

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities offers state and local health departments a unique opportunity to build upon current public health efforts.

Similar to public health environmental change efforts, the age-friendly concept is built around a comprehensive, multifaceted, cross-sector approach that promotes policies and strategies for meaningful and sustained change. Many of these strategies closely align with public health efforts to promote active and healthy communities, but with a particular focus on the older population. Consequently, age-friendly community efforts provide a platform for furthering public health efforts, extending the reach and expanding synergies among initiatives at the community level.

Specific benefits include:

  • Increased opportunities to forge and expand upon partnerships with community groups: Potential partners could include local officials, city departments (e.g., public works, parks and recreation, transportation, etc.), community planners, business leaders, university faculty, community-based organizations, urban and rural development groups, neighborhood associations, Smart Growth and environmental groups, pedestrian and bicycling groups and aging services providers.

  • Enhanced coordination and impact of efforts: Similar to public health practices, age-friendly community efforts align programs, integrate planning and combine resources with AARP and other community partners, thus improving the capacity for sustainable policy and environmental changes.

  • Increased ability to bridge sectoral, geographical and political boundaries: The notion of including health in all policies can be advanced through more diverse cooperative partnerships.

  • Improved opportunity to engage community members, specifically older adults: Incorporating the views and needs of the community into efforts to promote development and healthy aging can help ensure success. 

As part of the larger, global effort affiliated with WHO, participation in the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities can provide access to an international network of communities and partners, along with an increased availability of tools, resources and best practices for creating and maintaining age-friendly communities. 

What Public Health Brings to The Table

In addition to benefiting from involvement in age-friendly efforts, state and local health departments can contribute significantly to the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities program by bringing a public health perspective and expertise to the multiphase process localities must complete in order to become a member of the network. Examples include:

  • Serving as a key resource in the planning process by providing epidemiological and surveillance data to assess the health status of the community (particularly older residents) and enhance the ability of partners to accurately identify problems, gaps and needs.

  • Providing technical assistance and expertise in formulating policies and mobilizing partnerships to improve the age-friendliness and health of a community.

  • Conducting assessments and evaluation of the impact of proposed programs, policies or projects to the health of the community and older adults and providing practical information to decision makers as they consider various options.

  • Assisting with continuous improvements among members of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities by routinely assessing the health status and needs of community members, linking older adults to community supports and health services and assisting with evaluation efforts to determine the effectiveness of implemented strategies.

  • Providing access to research on innovative strategies that improve the health and age-friendliness of communities through public health affiliations with academic and research institutions.

Rose Gowan, M.D., Portrait, Public Health and Age-Friendly Communities

Dr. Rose Gowen, city commissioner, Brownsville, TX

Learn More About Livable Communities and Public Health

“Livable communities are communities that people want to be in. I challenge anyone to tell me what city in the U.S. — or the world — is vibrant and livable yet filled with a lot of sick people.... Unless we’re able to provide families with the tools they need to raise their children and be positive role models for healthy eating and active living, a community will not be a livable community in the richest sense of the word.”   
  — from "5 Questions for Rose Gowen, M.D."

Group of people stretch in a park, AARP Livable Communities, A Livable Lesson

A focus of public health is to support and create livable communities.

A Livable Lesson

A major focus of public health is to help support and create livable communities. Numerous livable communities-related public health resources (including publications, assessment tools, tool kits, best practice models, strategic plans and training modules) are available online and from various organizations. Learn how to work with public health departments.
— read "How to Work with Public Health to Advance Livable Communities"

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