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What You Can Do to Help Make Your Community More Age-Friendly

Caring for an older relative offers valuable insights into community needs


Branka Primetica, MSW, is the BRI Care Consultation™ Program Manager at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging

The age-friendly community movement is gaining momentum, and as a caregiver, you can play a valuable role. A variety of cities and towns have begun to recognize the importance of allowing older adults to age in place while maintaining strong ties with supportive family and friends. To this end, numerous communities have been developing ways to make themselves more engaging, safe and secure for our older loved ones. These age-friendly communities have numerous benefits to older adults, as well as caregivers of all ages. The following are ways you can participate in helping your community plan for and support successful aging in your neighborhood.

What has your experience as a caregiver shown you about changes that may be needed in your own community? What issues has your loved one raised? 

Your own daily observations as a caregiver to an aging adult will help you identify your community’s particular needs. You may ask yourself, are the sidewalks even so that your loved one can safely walk to the car or into a doctor’s office or store without fear of falling? If your loved one is unable to walk, can he or she easily access city-wide transportation options? Are store employees able to help if your loved one has poor vision and is not able to read a label? Will cashiers or pharmacists have some knowledge of how to communicate with your loved one who is experiencing memory loss?

Does your community offer centers for activities and socialization, which are of particular importance to older adults who are unable to stay at home alone all day? Do you have access to people who can provide home care so that your loved one may continue to live independently for as long as possible? Or, are there alternate housing options nearby? And last but not least, where can you get support to maintain your quality of life as a caregiver? Does your community offer support groups, respite that provides relief from caregiving, or other services? The number of ideas that spring to mind may seem overwhelming, but know that your questions will generate ideas and can result in significant improvements.

What has your community done to make itself more age-friendly?

As a caregiver, you have the right to seek answers to your questions in an effort to ensure that city officials, local agencies, businesses and other key players are continuously informed about the needs of older adults. Consider what your community has done right, and try to come up with specifics on what it may have already achieved toward addressing the needs of older adults and lessening the challenges of caregiving. Turn to your local Area Agency on Aging, city office on aging or senior center to ask about your area’s plan for developing an age-friendly community and to add your own thoughts on ways to improve the plan. Many communities have made age-friendly changes, including:

  • Placing benches in outdoor areas and folding chairs inside local businesses so that older adults can sit if they need a break. 
  • Organizing a walking group, cooking class or other fun and engaging activities to promote physical activity and healthy eating.
  • Partnering with local high schools to develop community service projects and other intergenerational programs for older adults. 

Can you think of similar ways your community has made things better for older adults and their caregivers?

What further improvements could your community make to its age-friendly design?

Check out the following resources for information on what other communities are doing to create a safer and more beneficial environment for our older loved ones and the people who care for them:

  • The World Health Organization (WHO) is helping communities become more age-friendly and promoting aging in place by recognizing the importance of physical, social and environmental factors. WHO provides guidance to communities to help assess their outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social opportunities, volunteering/employment, communications and support/health services. 
  • The AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities encourages states, cities and towns to implement environmental, economic and social changes to improve the health and well-being of older adults. This website provides examples of what communities across the country are doing to create age-friendly environments. 
  • Dementia Friends USA provides a free online tutorial on how to recognize the signs of dementia, and simple actions to take in creating a dementia friendly community where the needs of those with dementia are understood and supported. This tutorial provides an overview of what it’s like to live with dementia in different community settings and how to take action to address a variety of issues. 

These are only a few of the resources available to help you recognize the strengths and weaknesses of your community in regards to your loved one’s care, as well as help you generate ideas to share with your community leaders, businesses and other entities. The information may also spur your loved ones and fellow caregivers to join in your advocacy efforts. As the African proverb states, “it takes a village,” and when it comes to building an age-friendly community, that group effort could very well begin with you. 

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