New Study: Livable Community Indicators for Sustainable Aging in Place

Posted: April 10, 2013

Aging in place has the potential to benefit not only older adults, but also their families, their communities, and their governments. A new report from MetLife Mature Market Institute, the Stanford Center on Longevity, and the University of Michigan School of Social Work identifies an initial list of indicators that local governments can measure using information that is readily available to them. The report offers a low-cost way for cities and towns to begin to examine the needs of their aging population.

[Press release from the MetLife Mature Market Institute]

Simple and Low Cost Ways for Communities to Assess their Livability and “Aging in Place” Status

(New York, NY – March 5, 2013) – Communities in the U.S. can follow a relatively simple and low cost initial set of indicators to determine if their services meet the needs of an aging population. These indicators can be measured using information that is readily available and adaptable to local governments, providing a low-cost way for local governments to begin to examine the specific needs of their aging populations.

According to the study, Livable Community Indicators for Sustainable Aging in Place, from the MetLife Mature Market Institute and the Stanford Center on Longevity, the best communities for people transitioning into the older age group are those that offer accessible and affordable housing options, transportation, walkability, safe neighborhoods, emergency preparedness and support services like health care, retail outlets and social integration. The study was produced as a follow-up to the Mature Market Institute’s previous work in this area, Aging in Place 2.0, the Aging in Place Workbook and Housing Trends Update for the 55+ Market (with the National Association of Home Builders [NAHB]).

“We know people generally prefer to remain where they are as they age, connected to friends and family, and communities lose an economic and social asset when older people leave,” said Sandra Timmermann, Ed.D., director of the MetLife Mature Market Institute. “With that in mind, we supported the development of these indicators by studying the best existing tools and data. Communities can now make assessments and begin to implement change with readily available public data.”

According to Amanda Lehning, who collaborated with the Stanford Center on Longevity on this report, “Every community is unique. Local governments should think about how to adapt these indicators to best meet the needs of their residents. Efforts to help older adults age in place can also potentially improve the community as a whole. For example, older adults can make valuable contributions as neighbors, caregivers and volunteers. They also patronize local businesses and are a factor in tax revenues.”

Here are the most critical characteristics of an age-friendly livable community:

Housing – Accessible/visitable housing that is affordable. Zoning laws that permit flexible housing arrangements such as building assisted living facilities or private homes on relatively small lots.

Transportation – This includes mass transit, senior transport programs, walkable neighborhoods (safe for pedestrians), nearby parks, and recreation, roads with visible signage, adequate lighting, and adequate vehicle and pedestrian safety at intersections.

Safe Neighborhoods – Low crime rates and emergency preparedness plans that take the needs of older residents into account.

Health Care – An adequate number of doctors (primary care and specialists) and hospitals, and the presence of preventive health care programs.

Supportive Services – The presence of home and community-based caregiving support services and the availability of home health care, meals-on-wheels and adult day care.

Goods, Services and Amenities – Retail outlets within walking distance, restaurants and grocery stores offering healthy foods, and policies supportive of local farmers’ markets.

Social Integration – Programs and organizations that promote social activities and intergenerational contact. Places of worship, libraries, museums, colleges and universities are often underutilized resources.

The study provides detailed information about these indicators and how best to use them.

The indicator system in the report was developed using three sources of information: 1) A review of existing livable community and sustainability indicator systems and checklists, 2) An extensive review of the existing research literature on the community characteristics that impact elder health, well-being, and the ability to age in place, and 3) Interviews with 19 aging in place experts. The final list is based on: 1) Strength of research evidence that the indicator is critical, 2) Strength of support for the indicator by aging in place experts, 3) Ability to measure the indicator using existing data sources, 4) The potential for multiple benefits, such as for the economic and environmental health of the community, and 5) The degree of adaptability to different types of communities, urban, suburban and rural.

Click HERE to download the report.