Unless there are significant changes in how communities are constructed and what services are offered, many older adults will find it increasingly difficult to live in their communities and may have to consider institutional care, says an AARP state survey on Aging in Place.
“The great majority of older adults have a strong desire to live in their own homes and communities,” says AARP. “However, unsupportive community design, unaffordable and inaccessible housing, and a lack of access to needed services can thwart this desire. Starting in 2011, growth of the older American population will accelerate, in part because the leading edge of the baby boomer generation will reach age 65.”
Policies for affordable housing, transportation, and land use (which can help older adults live closer to or within walking distance of the services they need) are the three major components AARP lists as ways states can enable aging in place.
One way to encourage aging in place is through issuing the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s low-income housing tax credits to develop housing near transit and in a livable community setting.
More than 100,000 affordable apartments are created or rehabbed through this program each year, and as states are required to create an allocation plan to establish the preferences and priorities for awarding the tax credits, it’s an opportunity to align the program with state goals and policies, says AARP.
“Nearly 90% of people over age 65 indicate they want to stay in their home as long as possible, and four of five in that age bracket believe their current home is where they will always live,” says AARP, which emphasized importance of accessible building standards that allow people to stay in their homes instead of having to spend money on retrofitting or relocating.
Other concepts that can aid aging in place include preserving existing affordable housing near transit; establishing state housing trust funds to work with programs that build and finance affordable housing, including senior housing; and utilizing efficient locations for communities that reduce the need for transportation.
It might be a good idea to design houses and communities that are accessible to all people, including older Americans and those with disabilities, and some states encourage developers of affordable housing to install features that make it easier for older adults to age in place, says AARP.
Examples of this include accessible entrance doors; entry-level hallways that are wide enough for mobility devices; ramped or beveled door thresholds; and accessible bathroom.
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There are a number of models policymakers are considering that provide services and support to older residents who wish to remain in their homes instead of moving to assisted living or retirement centers, says AARP. One such model is a Naturally Occurring Retirement Center, housing complexes or neighborhoods “that were not planned specifically for older people, but have organically evolved to house a large population of older Americans.”
This model is being used in at least six states, including Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Missouri, to “better provide services and promote the ability to age in place.”
“Because of the profound demographic shift, state legislators will want to be aware of how the policies discussed in this report affect the ability of older adults to age in place as they consider introducing or amending similar legislation,” AARP concludes in its report. “On the whole, state adoption of policies and practices that facilitate aging in place is a prudent way to help ensure our communities are livable throughout the lifespan.”
Read the full report, “Aging in Place: A State Survey of Livability Policies and Practices.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace