Kathy Black is a Professor of Aging Studies and Social Work at the University of South Florida, Sarasota – Manatee. Dr. Black obtained her Ph.D. from the State University of New York, Albany and Master’s Degrees in Social Work and Gerontology from the University of Southern California and a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of California, Los Angeles. Dr. Black is a Hartford Geriatric Social Work Faculty Scholar, a Fellow in the Gerontological Society of America, and The Patterson Foundation Initiative Consultant for Age-Friendly Sarasota. Dr. Black has 40 years of experience in the field of aging including work as gerontological researcher, educator, geriatric case manager, medical social worker, and geriatric nurse throughout the continuum of care. Dr. Black has conducted nearly 200 presentations at local, state, national, and international venues and has authored over 50 publications.
Prioritizing Actions for Age-friendly Communities
Across America, communities are contending with unprecedented growth of their older populations and seeking to increase their opportunities to age successfully, that is, to avoid disease and disability, maintain high mental and physical functioning, and to keep actively engaged in life. Research suggests that older adults prefer to age in place in their current homes and communities, even as their ability to live independently is threatened by declines in their functional abilities. However, environmental gerontologists argue that if we create more livable dwelling and community environments, older people can cope more effectively with their limitations. The World Health Organization’s Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities and the AARP Network of Livable Communities represent global and national efforts designed to create such supportive social and physical environments. Their goal is to promote active, healthy and engaged living for persons throughout their life course and to foster their social, civic, and economic participation. The age-friendly model addresses eight domains of livability including housing Communities taking part in the network undertake a two-year planning phase in which residents needs and aspirations are identified and then undergo a three-year implementation phase in which strategies are enacted to meet to meet the community’s goals. These Age-Friendly initiatives, however, do not attempt to prioritize which of their multiple planning goals are more important than others. This symposium will overview two broad categories of actionable strategies that are both designed to increase the aging in place opportunities for older people. The first set of strategies examines the potential of implementing universal design principles in the dwellings and communities of older people. Mixed methodological findings from Florida’s first global age-friendly community will be presented to reveal the perceptions of their residents regarding the importance of these efforts. It will examine both the business and government adaptations needed to put these principles into practice. The second set of strategies emphasizes how the independent living arrangements of older people are enhanced by insuring that they are connected to needed goods, services, and care resources in their communities. It will explore the desirability of alternative and substitutable ways—transportation, internet technologies, homesharing, and smart home technologies—that older people can access their everyday needs. These strategies are rooted in the paradigm that an enabling built environment is a crucial variable and rationale for creating successful age-friendly communities.
This presentation will review research findings and housing-related policy that emerged from an age-friendly American community in which more than half of the residents are aged 50 and older and one out of three is age 65 or older. Survey (n = 1,127) and focus group (n = 45) data reveal older adult perspectives on the importance of housing-related features by older age groups including Boomers (persons born between 1946 – 1964) and non-Boomer older adults (born 1945 or earlier). Differences between important housing features by age-group are identified. In addition, the presentation will review a business-friendly housing policy that was designed to enhance the creation of universally-designed housing stock. The evolution of the housing policy is discussed within the context of the community’s assets, aspirations and multi-sector collaboration.
The status quo of our built environment is not benign: our homes and communities are designed for the highest ability levels, forcing others to adapt. This creates unnecessary obstacles to functioning and independence, pushing many of our citizens to artificially lower levels of functioning and dependence. This is preventable by informed design which respects the range of abilities across the lifespan and can be applied to create homes and communities which enable all people to thrive.
A paradigm shift is desperately needed, whereby the design of the built environment is viewed as a crucial variable in public health and community planning. This paradigm is based on Lawton and Nahemow’s Ecological Theory of Aging (1973). Enabling places promote independence, health, social interaction, and economic activity, making for healthy citizens and communities today and in the future–serving the older adults of today, and of the future.
A barrier to the adoption of this paradigm and the application of universal design principles is age- and ability-biases. Societies must shift their view of aging to reflect the fact that measurable age-related changes begin in the forties. Disabling and enabling environmental features are explored in relation to age-related ability changes.
This paper examines one strategy to make the communities of aging adults more livable especially when their aging in place preferences are threatened by declines in their functional limitations. Older people often feel incompetent and out of control when they cannot easily reach destinations to achieve their shopping, social, recreational, and health care needs. It emphasizes that communities have various ways by which to connect their elders to their everyday needs. These include: (1) auto and public transit vehicle transportation options including demand-responsive paratransit and Uber and Lyft services, but also in the future, driverless cars; (2) walking, especially more feasible in population dense, physically compact and mixed land-use neighborhoods; (3) the on-site availability or the home delivery of all matter of goods, services, and care; (4) the delivery of goods, services, and care to population concentrations of older persons found in buildings and neighborhoods, such as in NORC-SSPs, Elder Villages, and government-subsidized rental apartments; and (5) the connecting of older people to their activities, people, services, and care by using information and communication technologies such as smart home, internet, telemedicine, and telehealth strategies. The paper examines the pros and cons of these alternative connectivity solutions.