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Many American Communities Ill Prepared for Aging Population

May 5, 2005
America's cities, towns and neighborhoods are not ready to serve the needs of the nation's surging older population, warns an AARP report released today.

Beyond 50.05-Livable Communities: Creating Environments for Successful Aging takes a fresh look at the adequacy of communities to serve the needs of persons of all ages, especially those 50 and older, and provides AARP's prescription for improving them.

The demand for livable communities -- those that provide affordable and appropriate housing, supporting community features and services, and adequate transportation and mobility options -- is made clear by a recent Census Bureau forecast predicting that between 2000 and 2030, as the baby boom generation ages, the number of people 65 and older will more than double in 26 states.

The new AARP report, which for the first time establishes a link between the qualities of livable communities and Americans' ability to age successfully, finds that people frequently give low grades to their community if it is lacking those qualities. Today's shortcomings will be exacerbated as the number of older Americans surges in the next three decades.

When older people are not engaged in their communities, they have lower feelings of self-control, less success dealing with aging issues, lower life satisfaction, and a poorer quality of life, the report finds. Only 56 percent of those who report low engagement in their communities said they were satisfied with their lives, compared to 87 percent of those who were highly engaged. The report explores how older residents can maintain independence and exercise choice and control in their lives.

"Each time an older person finds it is no longer reasonable to live in his or her home or community, it is a crisis on an individual and family level," said John Rother, AARP's Director of Policy and Strategy. "Community features can enhance the lives of older residents. This is increasingly important because between now and 2020, the number of Americans 50 to 64 years old will increase by 13 million, and those 65 and older by 18 million.

AARP's vision of a livable community is more than a goal. It is a wakeup call to baby boomers and their parents to become involved in their communities. Public officials need to seek out and engage residents. We hope this report, and AARP's focus on these issues, hastens national efforts on behalf of our members."

AARP's work on Livable Communities is initially focused on housing and mobility issues. Older people feel more isolated when their homes do not meet their physical needs, the report finds. A lack of affordable housing can force older persons to have to move.

In an ideal situation, planning during an original design phase or making modifications to an existing structure can make homes suitable for people to age in their communities if they wish, or provide them alternatives in other communities where they want to live. This can reduce the number of people feeling forced to move into assisted living facilities or nursing homes while they are still capable of living independently.

Older Americans who don't drive make many fewer trips, and frequently miss doing things they want to, because of insufficient transportation options. Public transportation can be a critical source of mobility for this population (for instance, one-sixth of medical trips for those over 50 are made on it).

Other mobility options, including safe walking options, taxi services, and human services transportation, can reduce reliance on personal cars and increase opportunities for community involvement. A safe pedestrian environment with good sidewalks, easy access to grocery stores, health centers, recreational facilities and other services can also have a positive effect.

"Livable communities benefit Americans of all ages, but those benefits are particularly felt by older people," said Partners for Livable Communities President Bob McNulty, who served on a panel at the report's release. "AARP's dedication to this issue will have myriad benefits for the people of this nation."

AARP's Beyond 50.05 report includes a call to action to focus community attention. It encourages community leaders and civic groups to facilitate social involvement, including organizational membership and volunteering, and actively solicit contributions by persons of all ages and abilities in community decision-making.

It promotes the design and modification of homes to meet the needs of older residents, and encourages stability through an adequate supply of diverse, affordable housing options.

The report recommends that the travel environment be improved to benefit older drivers, while endorsing safety efforts and older driver education. Mobility options, including public transportation, walking and bicycling, and specialized transportation for people with special needs, are also key. To help community leaders and civic groups implement its recommendations, AARP's Public Policy Institute has developed "Livable Communities: An Evaluation Guide." It includes a community evaluation tool, resources, tips, and innovative ideas and success stories.

AARP has also developed a 10-point community self-assessment check list that can be used to evaluate and assess a community's livability; it is posted at

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