Showcasing cross-sector partnerships and innovative strategies, the NPC17 session "Empowering Older Adults with Resilient Communities" elevated a comprehensive community resilience framework to benefit all residents, including older adults.
APA partner and national leader on age-friendly initiatives, AARP launched the discussion by defining community resilience: The capacity of the community to anticipate, prepare for, and adapt to changing conditions and withstand, respond to, and recover rapidly from shocks.
More than safety during disaster, an individual and a community's capacity for resiliency is reflected in the day-to-day functioning of residents and institutions. Older adults are often more vulnerable and disproportionally impacted by disasters. But by strengthening social connections, by ensuring access to healthcare, by supporting safe, affordable housing, older adults — and communities — are better prepared to survive unanticipated events.
Jana Lynott, senior strategic policy advisor on the Livable Communities Team in AARP's Public Policy Institute, articulated AARP's vision to support older adults through a resilient communities framework.
Sharing the Livability Index as a source of data for understanding both the strengths and the opportunities communities face, Lynott also introduced AARP's Network of Age-Friendly Communities. A resource for neighborhoods, cities, and towns across the country, the network reiterates AARP's vision: healthy, sustainable communities will benefit residents of all ages:
"The AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities encourages states, cities, towns and counties to prepare for the rapid aging of the U.S. population by paying increased attention to the environmental, economic and social factors that influence the health and well-being of older adults. By doing so, these communities are better equipped to become great places, and even lifelong homes, for people of all ages."
Joie Acosta, PhD, who is a senior behavioral scientist at RAND Corporation and a community and cultural psychologist, continued the discussion of older adults and resilient communities by sharing initial findings from her research to understand the impact of Age-Friendly Villages. Acosta looked at preparedness in the context of both disaster resiliency and health resilience.
Lindsay Goldman, director of the New York Academy of Medicine's work in healthy aging, closed the discussion by sharing Age-Friendly NYC and lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy.
The holistic and comprehensive approach of planning is integral to preparing for disasters and to supporting older adults as they age in place — and is beyond any one issue area, engaging hazards planners and healthy communities planners alike to strengthen resilience. Coalitions participating in APA's Plan4Health project have woven strategies targeting older adults in their work to integrate planning and public health.
The Kentucky Coalition for Healthy Communities, part of the second cohort of Plan4Health, is housed in the Kentuckiana Regional Planning and Development Agency, which serves as the region's Area Agency on Aging. Leaders from the coalition presented alongside fellow aging experts at APA's 2016 Policy and Advocacy Conference in Lessons from Health and Aging Advocacy.
Live Well Kingston, a member of the first cohort of Plan4Health, engaged seniors in their Age Well initiative, pushing the very definition of aging itself. As Marge Gagnon, a coalition leader, notes:
"Aging well is also about changing the way we think about aging. I like the phrases 'active aging' and 'maturity reimagined.' I think that gets at what Plan4Health is about, too. How do we rethink our daily lives, our typical experiences to make space for healthier options? Biking to work doesn't seem like a revolutionary act, but it's the same type of thing. Biking to work means that streets are safe for bicycles and I'm incorporating a healthy activity into my routine. Aging well will be a series of small steps that add up to a different way to live our lives."
The recent Livable Communities Summit at the American Society of Aging conference provided an opportunity for planners and aging network professionals to continue cross-sector conversations, strengthening the connections between the two professions. For more about the Livable Communities Summit, check out this blog post from AARP.
For more tools and resources about aging in place and supporting resilient communities, check out the following:
Top image: Cyclists ride along the Chicago Riverwalk path, passing a small seating area. Photo by Kelly Wilson.
About the Author
Elizabeth Hartig is project coordinator for APA's Planning and Community Health Center.