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Designing Age-Friendly Communities

An important component of aging in place is having a community that helps older adults to do so. The World Health Organization (WHO) has created a model of “age-friendly environments” that provides ways in which communities can support older adults living among them. WHO states that creating age-friendly environments takes a group effort in a community:

“Creating environments that are truly age-friendly requires action in many sectors: health, long-term care, transport, housing, labor, social protection, information and communication, and by many actors – government, service providers, civil society, older people and their organizations, families and friends. It also requires action at multiple levels of government.”

The WHO model also stresses that communities must work to address discrimination toward people based on age, also known as ageism, to foster independence among older adults, and to develop policies that support healthy aging.

The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities partnered with the WHO model to help cities prepare for the large increase in the older adult population. Thirty-six states are currently participating in the program. AARP works with partner organizations to identify communities for membership in the program, assists the community's enrollment, and guides the representatives through the implementation and assessment process. Through the program, AARP and program participants design the built and social environment around the local elderly population, ultimately helping communities become better places for older adults aging in place.

Making communities age-friendly in rural areas requires additional considerations. In Canada, there was a program addressing this issue called the Age-Friendly Rural/Remote Communities Initiative (AFRRCI). Its goals were to:

  1. Increase awareness of how seniors can stay active, be healthy, and live productive lives within their communities
  2. Produce a guide that rural communities can use to identify barriers to the development of age-friendly communities

For communities to participate, they had to meet specific criteria, including population size (less than 5,000), aging experiences, remoteness, economic structure, and ethnic/cultural diversity. The project produced a guide that contains eight themes so communities can evaluate the age-friendliness of their community:

“1. Outdoor spaces and buildings
 2. Transportation
 3. Housing
 4. Respect and social inclusion
 5. Social participation
 6. Civic participation and employment opportunities
 7. Communication and information
 8. Community support and health services”

Resources to Learn More

AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities Tool Kit
Self-service tool kit that provides examples for developing plans for unique age-friendly communities.
Organization(s): AARP