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Aging & Society

How Cities and Older Adults Can Improve Health Together

Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities once wrote: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”

An inspiring call to action for the young and old alike, the statement prompts an important question related to the experience of aging in an urban environment:

How can cities become active partners to support longer, healthier lives for all? And, how can older adults themselves play a large role in the future of healthy cities?

Older adults increasingly seek to age in place and at home. They're staying in the workforce longer, and expressing new attitudes about health, housing, transportation and education. They're upending convention, remaining active and contributing members of their communities. Cities are on the frontlines of this revolution. With the 65+ set to double by 2050 and with 80% of U.S. adults 65+ living in metropolitan areas, cities can become incubators for healthy aging.

Every other year since 2012, the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging has published the Best Cities for Successful Aging (BCSA) index, which evaluates U.S. metropolitan areas on how well they serve the needs and meet the expectations of the nation’s largest-ever population of mature adults. The index captures key variables that support healthy aging, including access to quality, affordable healthcare, wellness programs, and community engagement opportunities. Highlighting cities large and small, the index demonstrates how investing in place, people, and purposeful activity may serve as a promising ingredients for healthy aging.

Here are several ways that cities around the U.S. have adopted innovative strategies to partner with and improve the health and wellness of its older adults:

Optimizing Access to City Life: In New York City, Age-Friendly NYC – a unique public-private partnership between the NY Academy of Medicine, the Office of the Mayor, and the City Council – taps into older adults to solicit feedback and strengthen their communities. In an effort to optimize access to city life, this coordinated endeavor has not only led to a reduction in senior pedestrian fatalities, but has increased walkability through the addition of public seating, as well as new recreational and cultural programming.

Implementing Innovative Finance: In Baltimore, some social service programs have adopted the Pay for Success (PFS) model, which allocates resources to programs with demonstrable outcomes. One PFS project provides meal delivery, in-home safety checks, socialization and streamlined case management services to low-income older adults at risk of utilizing acute care services. 

Developing Age-Friendly Action Plans: In Los Angeles, the Purposeful Aging Los Angeles (PALA), initiative was created in recognition of a rapidly aging population and focuses on innovative and sustained age-friendly programs. Through a multilingual survey, PALA provided an opportunity for its Los Angeles residents to offer input into the development of its Age-Friendly Action plan to foster a community where older Angelenos can age in place.

Empowering Community Health Advocates: In Detroit, the Seniors CONNECT program engages and empowers older adults in local senior centers to serve as Community Health Workers (CHW).  These community-based CHWs provide education, navigation and support for underserved or vulnerable older adults in the metro area, garnering trust amongst the older adults they serve through shared-life experiences to help overcome barriers to care.

Inspiring Agents of Change: In Denver, Boomers Leading Change focuses solely on harnessing the life skills and experience of adults 50+ to become agents for positive change.  Members of the organization serve as patient navigators, community health workers, health coaches, and volunteer coordinators.

References 1 AARP: The United States of Aging Survey. May-June 2016. https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/livable-communities/learn/research/the-united-states-of-aging-survey-2012-aarp.pdf 2 United States Census Bureau. An Aging Nation: The Older Population in the United States. May 2014. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2014/demo/p25-1140.pdf 3 Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging. Best Cities for Successful Aging (BCSA) Index. 2017. http://successfulaging.milkeninstitute.org/2017/BCSA-2017.pdf 4 Age-Friendly NYC. https://nyam.org/age-friendly-nyc/about/

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