Why Community Matters in Long Term Care

Copyright © 2014 AARP. All rights reserved.

When considering where to live in old age, community is the physical structures and services of a place and the interactions of people who live there. Both are important in thinking about what older people need.

The ability for you or your loved one to live alone or with extended family may depend on the availability of community services, and the quality of life can depend on the ease with which you can interact with other people. Without community, isolation becomes an almost inevitable outcome.

Communities that encourage older people to stay active, connected, and engaged are called age-friendly or livable communities. These places have evolved naturally or have been redesigned to make getting around easier for older people and to provide essential services for them. This evolution has become necessary as communities have changed and as the population has aged.

Cities around the world are facing similar challenges of aging populations, inadequate services, and deteriorating infrastructure like roads and bridges. The World Health Organization (WHO) has surveyed a number of cities to find common solutions. WHO's report on the subject defines age-friendly cities as those that

  • Recognize the wide range of capacities and resources among older people

  • Anticipate and respond flexibly to aging-related needs and preferences

  • Respect the decisions and lifestyle choices of residents

  • Protect people who are most vulnerable

  • Promote the inclusion of people of all ages in and contribution to all areas of community life

These elements are designed to make communities work for all ages, not just older adults.

AARP has a similar definition: “A livable community has affordable, appropriate housing; adequate transportation; and supportive community features and services. Once in place, these resources enhance personal independence, allow residents to age in place, and foster residents’ engagement in the community's civic, economic, and social life.”

These broad goals can be met only by concerted community effort. State policies regarding land use, transportation, and housing may need revision. In cooperation with the National Conference of State Legislatures, AARP conducted a survey of state policies on these issues and identified which states have made progress.

In addition, AARP has an extensive evaluation guide intended to be used by a coalition of community partners to identify problems and plan action. There are sections on walkability, housing, shopping, recreation and cultural activities, transportation, and healthcare services.

This would be a good project for a citizens’ group, but if you are looking at the community as an individual, the surveys alone can tell you a lot about what is available and what problems exist. For example, the survey on walkability asks questions about sidewalk maintenance, curb cuts, and similar issues.

You can fill out the surveys of interest to you and take the result to your municipal government, which is responsible for maintenance. Just reading through the surveys will give you new insight into the many aspects of community that you may have never thought much about.

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